“Two years after we first began playing with cobalt chrome, we understood the technology was going to be formative,” Morris says. One consequence is the formation of Rapid Quality Manufacturing (RQM) as a manufacturing sister company, leaving MTI to handle prototyping and product development.
One of additive manufacturing's characteristics is surface roughness. RQM developed MicroTek Finishing, a micromachining process using five-axis cutting tools so roughness can be reduced, even on interior walls. Polishing varies from industry standard RA scales of 2-4, which are so highly polished they work for knee implants, to RA 300, which is equivalent of 60-grit sandpaper.
While engine makers constitute its core development and production business, Morris regards collaboration with researchers at nearby Wright-Patterson AFB, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, as important for the company's development. MTI is spending about 3-4% of its annual revenue—nearly $750,000—on R&D. Some is process-oriented, such as work on low-oxygen production. But the majority is product focused. A current effort required proprietary modifications to its DMLS machines as it experimented with a new Aluminum 6061 (to learn more, go to www.morristech.com).
The alloy is of interest because of its high-temperature characteristics. The industry already has a 6061T6 suitable for extrusions and plate applications, but no equivalent for casting. MTI wants to fill that gap with DMLS and has attracted enough interest for beta testing in airframe component, engine manifold and space propulsion applications.
Morris has found that what the company does attracts smart, creative people. “The coolness of the technology—lasers, electron beams—really stimulates people,” he says. “Reality is getting close to science fiction in a lot of this stuff.”
Major production rates remain a frontier, so RQM's production runs remain small. The expectation is that another 2-3 years will be needed before significant production starts.
“I think there's a fair probability that we will see additive metals interest and demand outstrip the ability of the supply chain to keep up,” he says. “There's still a very large knowledge transfer that needs to happen. But that happens with machining, too. In aerospace, the vast majority of people have heard of additive manufacturing.”
But he worries that tax increases and more regulation will stifle the business environment.