NTS supplies Bond3D with process-critical components and assemblies in long-term partnership

Developing from start-up to high-tech company in under 7 years, Bond3D is the leading manufacturer of 3D-printed, high-performance polymer components. The company is now executes its assembly and sourcing of components in-house, working with NTS as the manufacturer of a whole range of parts including various process-critical sheet metal components, other key sheet metal welded assemblies and the complete enclosure of their unique 3D-printing systems. We talk to Bond3D’s Supply Chain manager and Hardware Lead about their development as a company, the successful partnership with NTS and the company’s roadmap.

Photo above: Left to right, Jeroen Sprankenis (New Business Development manager at NTS), Marald Speelman (Teamlead Hardware at Bond3D) & Hans Pannekoek (Supply Chain Manager at Bond3D)

NTS’s experienced technology team actively supports customers working on product development in order to move their NPI project towards full-scale production. During the pandemic, NTS has started working with 3D-printer Bond3D who are moving everything related to the building of their machines, from sourcing of parts to assembly, in-house. We are not only providing them with process-critical components, but also support and advise their team in a wide variety of areas.

About Bond3D: 3D-printer of high performance polymers

In 2014, a father and son duo started a company that would specialise in the development of 3D-printing techniques for high-performance polymers. Bond3D was the first – and for now the only – company to develop 3D-printing technology and systems that allows for the printing of PAEK/PEEK without losing the inherent characteristics of the material: low specific weight, strength, and corrosion resistance. Because of these characteristics, it is used to replace materials such as titanium in the manufacturing of, for example, critical parts in high-tech semiconductor production, analytical systems and medical implants. Not only is Bond3D developing disruptive 3D-printing technology, they are also building the 3D-printing machines in order to produce the 3D-printed parts that are being used by leading high-tech companies worldwide.

Photo: Hans Pannekoek and Marald Speelman in front of one of the PEEK 3D printers

At the end of 2018, following several investment rounds, PEEK/PAEK manufacturer, Victrex, acquired a stake in Bond3D. The company recognizes that Bond3D’s technology is the most logical way to accelerate 3D printed PAEK/PEEK to market. Hans Pannekoek, Supply Chain Manager at Bond3D explains why:

“Before Bond3D, PAEK/PEEK production parts were only available as an extruded product, meaning that a lot of material was ‘lost’ during the manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing was only used for prototyping. With our technology, you significantly reduce the amount of material used and also utilize all the free forming capabilities of 3D printing. Besides that, the Bond3D technology allows for end-application usage alongside conventional manufacturing techniques, such as machining or injection molding, while providing similar material properties. It is truly a superior manufacturing alternative for lower volume production.

Photo: Examples of 3D printed PEEK components. Copyright: Bond3D

There are, of course, many innovative applications for production parts that are manufactured with our technology. Like an example from the medical market that I am very excited about. This is a vertebra out of PEEK that is optimised for both grafting and has the same strength and fatigue resistance as metallic biomaterials.

Bringing machine development and assembly in-house

The first two years of the company were spent on validating the 3D-Print technology. Once proven, Bond3D worked on the development and realization of 3 prototype 3D-printers before building a first alpha-series of 8 machines at an external company. Due to growing demand for its 3D-print technology, Bond3D initiated the production of a new batch of 8 machines with which they will double their production capacity. For this phase, the company is bringing everything, from the sourcing of parts to assembly, in-house.

NTS has stepped up to supply several process-critical sheet metal components, various welded sheet metal assemblies and the complete enclosure of the printer as well as large parts of the appealing, premium powder-coated exterior you see in the various photographs. Hans shares how the collaboration between Bond3D and NTS evolved:

Photo: A close-up of the sheet metal, accurate subframe and key process chamber of the Bond3D printer, manufactured by NTS.

Working online from introduction to proposal

“One of our contacts, upon hearing that we were going to move everything in-house, told us to contact NTS. He thought we were well-matched. We were at first hesitant to make room for a new supplier, with the pandemic limiting us substantially, but we are happy we did. Contact was established on October 1st and in the following weeks we got to know each other and NTS’ capabilities. There were many links in terms of references, manufacturing technology expertise and customer base. So, we had plenty to talk about. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, we sent our first request for proposal. We had selected a centre frame as a starting point because it is a relatively complex component due to it have many mounting holes, circlips and low dimensional tolerance and it is a type of component that NTS has a lot of experience with. The process resulted in a good proposal from a commercial point of view.

But remember, this was at the height of the lockdown, and we had not met in person nor seen NTS’ production facilities. It was not until the 17th of December that I visited the NTS Campus in Eindhoven and the NTS Finish facility in Bergeijk.  And when I did, I left with a very good feeling. The structure of the quality control, attention to detail of the sheet metal department and the wide variety of appealing products they had made for leading OEMs told me this was going to be a good decision.

Two weeks later, we confirmed our first order. We received the frames in early January and were very impressed with the quality. That was the final proof we needed, allowing us to cut loose and send them a whole list of requests. NTS now supplies a wide range of process-critical components and we look forward to a long-term working relationship.”

Photo: The 3D PEEK printer enclosure, production of the housing and premium powder-coated by NTS / NTS Finish

The right conversation (partner)

At Bond3D, Marald Speelman is Teamlead Hardware and responsible for the hardware, both mechanical and electrical of their 3D-printers. He has been working on the Bond3D technology since the beginning and was pleasantly surprised by NTS’ collaborative attitude:

“My confidence grows when a supplier starts by asking the right questions. NTS just calls us to talk about certain design choices and what we are hoping to achieve or to discuss a certain tolerance requirement. It tells me they are not making any assumptions and really want to understand our designs and needs. At the same time, they are deeply knowledgeable, and we would be fools not to make full use of their expertise to finetune or improve on our designs. So, we are taking note of relevant findings and will be incorporating them into new versions of the design.

Photo: Six 3D PEEK printers aligned in the factory of Bond3D. Copyright: Bond3D

It also helps that NTS has so much experience in working with high tech OEMs, they know what we are talking about. When we had questions concerning cleanliness, for example, they put us in touch with the right people within days. Since then, we have already completed two training courses on the subject and are incorporating our learnings in our module designs.”

Looking to the future

“Currently, NTS supplies various critical components, a large share of the sheet metal parts and the complete enclosure for the upcoming series of 8 printers. In the next few years, our goal is to build dozens of machines. We can fit 40 at our current location but the question is: when are we building them? That is highly dependent on certification processes in, for example, the medical market,” says Marald. “And that can be a lengthy process. That is why we are now working on the creation of a modular platform that can be customized to specific market demands. The basic technology is the same for each machine, but the modules allow for specific applications by enabling a certain level of cleanliness or sterility. So that whenever approval is granted, we are ready to scale up production in both medical and semiconductor markets.” For 2022 and beyond, the future of Bond3D and its partnership with NTS is looking bright. Bond3D sees a further expansion in their production capacity needs and expects a minimum expansion of 8 systems a year.

NTS is looking forward to working with Bond3D for years to come, supporting the scale-up not just as a supplier but as a partner in the world of high-tech manufacturing.

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