Additive Engineering Solutions (AES) of Akron, Ohio, was one of the first commercial users of the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) system, the large-scale polymer 3D printer developed by Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) in collaboration with Cincinnati Incorporated. Austin Schmidt and Andrew Bader first founded AES in 2016 as a provider of desktop 3D printing services, but pivoted into industrial tooling with the acquisition of a BAAM system. Bader’s family, the owners of metal stamping and fabricating company OGS Industries, provided financial and administrative backing for the venture, as well as the physical space for the business: a 14,000-square-foot industrial building that shares a parking lot with OGS.
When editor-in-chief Peter Zelinski first visited the facility in 2017, AES was awaiting the delivery of a five-axis router to serve its one BAAM system. When we both stopped by in 2019, there were three BAAM printers on the floor and two routers. By 2020 the count had grown to four BAAM printers and three CNC machines, and we began to hear how AES was expanding beyond its tooling mission, now producing end-use parts in addition to layup forms, concrete molds, stamping dies and other tooling.
The current additive manufacturing capacity at AES. Its first Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) system is the elevated machine in the back, capable of 3D printing parts up to 6 feet tall. The two newer machines in the foreground are only designed to print up to 3 feet tall.
The expansion of the business has led its founders to consider another kind of expansion: vertical build height. In contrast to other extrusion systems where a printhead moves upwards as the build does, the BAAM systems keep the printhead on a gantry at the top of the build envelope and drop the platform instead. While the original BAAM system at AES offers a Z height of 6 feet, the newer two machines accommodate only half that.
Limited by the building’s ceiling height and unwilling to move the business, Schmidt and Bader found another solution: Print taller by going deeper. AES moved the two newer printers out of the way and commenced work on what the team affectionately calls “the Pit.” Essentially, they dug a hole and created a basement for these machines:
Completed in 2020, the Pit measures 27 by 18 feet, and is 6 feet deep. The two BAAM systems that sit over top of it can now print up to 8 feet tall. Finished builds can be raised up to floor level, making them easy to unload by hand or with a jib crane. I got a part’s-eye view of that journey on a recent visit. It takes about 10 minutes to ride the build platform all the way up from the bottom—see the video at the top of this post for a timelapse.
What is AES using this newfound capacity for? Although industrial tooling remains the largest share of its business, the company is increasingly taking on production work. One recent example involved 3D printing the five-part hull for an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) created by Dive Technologies. Learn more about this project in our most recent episode of The Cool Parts Show.
Thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America's investment in additive manufacturing technology has been relatively low-risk and low-cost. And yet, layer by layer, the wins are adding up.
The pneumatic gripper 3D-printed as a complete working unit has demonstrated its effectiveness for continuous operation over time. It is one illustration of the role additive is liable to play in making robotic automation easier.
A case study from Centerline Engineered Solutions demonstrates that a 3D-printed die and punch can withstand press brake forces, providing a cheaper, faster path to production.