Industrial technology and 3D printing specialist Aurora Labs (ASX: A3D) is inching closer to developing the next generation of industrial production, by creating a Power Production Unit (PPU) prototype.
The company said that its “patent pending” technology represents a significant advance over and above current production methods within the metallurgical manufacturing and 3D printing space.
Aurora currently manufacturers one of the world’s most versatile 3D metal printers, S-Titanium Pro, which uses metal powder as the building block to create elaborate designs made entirely from metal.
Aurora offers the S-Titanium Pro at a price in the region of US$50,000 per unit, which makes it a highly specialised and exclusive manufacturing method available to a limited number of manufacturers.
Aurora says that if it can successfully develop its PPU and sees the necessary patents granted in the foreseeable future, it will secure a superior competitive edge over other 3D printing companies in the additive manufacturing space, via substantially lower production costs and “tightly controlled powder sizes”.
Keeping its trade secrets close to its chest, Aurora says the technology it’s developing will allow the company to be the first to produce metal powders at large volumes and at a competitive price compared to existing processes used by other powder manufacturers.
This milestone could ultimately allow Aurora to move into the development of various consumable powders that will benefit Aurora’s “large format technology” and fulfil growing demand for precise metals-based additive manufacturing on a large scale, across the globe.
In addition to its 3D printing ambitions, Aurora is also keen to advance its technology and abilities in order to create improvements in multiple metallurgical applications such as Metal Injection Moulding (MIM), powder metallurgy, laser cladding and thermal sprays.
Rapidly growing 3D metal market
According to Aurora, it will also be exploring business models and commercial opportunities in international markets where there is a large demand for metal powders in markets not related to 3D printing. As part of its internal development process, Aurora is also collaborating with Australia’s leading 3D metals lab at the CSIRO.
Research done by Technavio indicates revenue from the combined global metal powders market was US$3.5 billion in 2016 and forecast to grow at a CAGR of 3.72% by 2021, to reach US$4.1 billion.
More broadly, Technavio’s analysts forecast the global metal additive manufacturing market to grow at a CAGR of 24.47% during the period 2016-2020.
Aurora says it is “renewing discussions with a number of global powder manufacturers” with a view to potentially involving them in the commercialisation of its novel technology.
“We are progressing very rapidly with our powder development as we see the extensive opportunity here readily available. Metal powder production is critical to the mass adoption of metal 3D printing for manufacturing and our progress will open up a considerable market for us to tap into, as a single powder production unit could potentially produce up to 5 tonnes of powder per day,” said David Budge, Managing Director of Aurora Labs.
“There are obvious synergies between metal powder production and the potential demand created by additive manufacturing, such as with our Large Format Printer, and we intend to capitalise on this opportunity,” said Mr Budge.
To Russia with commerce
To advance its overarching strategy to commercialise additive manufacturing and 3D metal printing on a large commercial scale, Aurora plans to supplement its longer-term plans with commercial sales in the short-term.
As part of its commercial strategy, the company recently agreed on a distribution agreement with Nissa Digispace, a Russian company, for an initial two-year term with a further three-year extension already provisionally agreed.
The terms of the deal provide Nissa Digispace with exclusive distribution rights for Aurora’s small format printers in Russia and the former CIS, in countries such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.
Furthermore, Aurora has also granted non-exclusive distribution rights for Nissa to distribute its printers in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
According to Mr Budge, the addition of a further distributor and additional new territory builds on Aurora’s existing distribution arrangements already in place in multiple countries.
“One of Aurora’s current commercial objectives is to continue to commercialise the SFP, with the cash received from sales used to assist with funding the development of the Medium and Large Format Printers. Expanding our global distribution network with a solid partner such as Nissa Digispace greatly assists us in meeting this goal,” said Mr Budge.
“We look forward to the impact this can have on small format printer sales, which will ultimately support the development of our far more significant commercial opportunity within the large format technology and large-scale manufacturing sector,” he added.
Both Aurora and Nissa are keeping the financial terms of their agreement confidential, although Aurora does admit that they “do not deviate significantly from the Company’s other distribution arrangements”.
As part of the deal, Aurora is currently factory training Nissa Digispace staff in operation and full servicing of the S-Titanium Pro at Aurora’s Bibra Lake facility in Western Australia.
On completion of the training, the first S-Titanium Pro will be shipped to Nissa Digispace as their demonstration unit, at distributor cost.