Tauranga 3D printing facility offers growth options for Rapid Advanced Manufacturing

By David Porter

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Science and Technology Minister Steven Joyce opened Rapid Advance Manufacturing on Friday. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
Science and Technology Minister Steven Joyce opened Rapid Advance Manufacturing on Friday. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

High-tech company Rapid Advanced Manufacturing, which opened its new facility in Tauranga's Tauriko Business Park on Friday, is looking to have up to 20 3D metal printers on site by 2020, says chairwoman Beppe Holm.

"Opening the new facility is a very significant step in the business," she said.

"What we're looking to establish here is a world-class 3D metals printing facility."

Rapid Advanced Manufacturing (RAM) is the commercial arm that has grown out of the research organisation Titanium Industry Development Association (TiDA), originally established in 2008.

RAM is the biggest Australasian centre for 3D metals printing, primarily in titanium. It operates four metal laser machines and is looking at acquiring at least two and possibly four more machines next year if demand continued to pick up.

"It will be a gradual ramp-up, but we have existing customers with potential to grow and we can see new customers that we can bring on board."

The RAM facility was opened by Science and Technology Minister Steven Joyce, who said it was an event he had insisted on attending. "

This [3D metals printing] technology is one great example of how clever Kiwi companies are. I am pretty excited about it."

The opening was attended by a high-profile crowd of clients, business leaders and politicians, including Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless, Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller, and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges.

"This is something the people of Tauranga should be very proud of," said Mr Bridges.

"It shows our business community is not just about kiwifruit and avocados, we've got an increasingly sophisticated high-tech manufacturing scene as well."

Mr Brownless said the RAM opening was a significant development. "If you look at the way the world's going with 3D printing, it's fantastic that we're at the heart of it here in Tauranga."

Ian Macrae, head of Page & Macrae, who has been a key financial backer and supporter of TiDA and RAM from the outset, said it had taken a long time to get to reach the facility's opening. "We've got a lot of aspirations ahead of us and a long way to go yet."

Warwick Downing, who previously headed TiDA and has now become chief executive of RAM, said manufacturers were quite interested, but it had taken some time to move beyond the hype to see what 3D metals printing could really do.

"Companies are now actually incorporating it as part of their production methodology instead of just one or two prototypes here and there, and I think that's very significant," Mr Downing said.

Jon Mason, who has been a supporter of TiDA/RAM since his time as chairman of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, read out a message at the opening from Mike Brown, managing director of Renishaw UK, which provided three of RAM's machines.

"Introducing metal 3D printing to the manufacturing environment requires a unique combination of skills, facilities and experience," said Mr Brown.

"RAM has consistently led the field in this regard and has been a major driver for future industry adaption of this technology. With the opening of the new bespoke facilities, RAM has demonstrated its commitment to leading the 3D printing sector as its adoption increases towards mainstream manufacturing process."

Parts manufactured by RAM's 3D process include titanium knives used by the Team Emirates America's Cup crew, parts for world champion Peter Burling's onboard Moth foils, customised handlebar extensions for the New Zealand Olympics cycling team, and titanium lugs for high-end Australian custom bike maker Bastion Cycles.

Oceania Defence managing director Bert Wilson, had been working with RAM for almost four years to develop industry-changing titanium suppressors (silencers).

The new RAM facility had put him in a much stronger position to go after larger international contracts, Mr Wilson said.

"It's very difficult to go up against major manufacturers that have been in the business for 20 and 30 years and have $20-$30 million contracts."

Mr Wilson provided the designs and worked with the RAM team on the production. Their early work saw them pushing the boundaries of what the machines could do.

"We went well beyond what the manufacturers thought we could do with the machines."

The new RAM operation was a big boost for Oceania and would allow the company to supply bigger orders, Mr Wilson said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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