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Keech aims for 3D printing ‘global relevance’ with new business launch

Third-generation company Keech has launched its new subsidiary, Keech Advanced Manufacturing 3D (KAM 3D), with plans to put Bendigo on the additive manufacturing map.

The group of companies, best known for its steel castings – which are used globally by some of the biggest mining firms – announced its plan to be a major provider of 3D printing technology to its region last year.

Its use of additive manufacturing goes back “three or four” years, according to CEO Herbert Hermens, and to experiments involving a Stratasys uPrint Plus.

The experiments were prompted by skills issues in the patternmaking subsidiary, BPM 3D Technologies, which was this year re-branded as Keech 3D.

“What became evident at the time was that a bottleneck in our organisation was our patternmaking business,” Hermens told Manufacturers’ Monthly at KAM 3D’s launch this Thursday.

It was hard to get enough patternmakers, and those who were suitable tended to be in the twilight of their careers.

“We started to investigate what are our options,” he said.

“CNC cutting of patterns? We’re already doing that, but it’s not fast enough. And it doesn’t allow us to do undercuts and all this sort of stuff. Wood patternmakers know how to do all this fancy stuff. And a CNC machine, even one with six axes, it just couldn’t do what we wanted to do. So that’s what became a dark alleyway.”

The company recognised 3D printing as suitable for patternmaking, and was excellent for reverse engineering old patterns through digital scanning.

The willingness to experiment with a novel solution was consistent with the company’s tradition of innovation and adaptation, believes Hermens, beginning with the third-generation, 80-year-old company’s founder Gordon Keech Senior.

“One of his first statements was ‘we will be an innovative organisation’,” recalled Hermens.

“Keech wouldn’t be here today [without a willingness to change] because they would’ve gone under, the way a lot of foundries do, saying ‘we’re a foundry that does this. This is what we are.’

“But because this was structured within the organisation, where they’ve moved from making hand tools to making axes to making ground engaging tools to making stuff for the defence industry, for the rail industry, for the aeronautics industry.”

In the short-term, the company sees its additive manufacturing division as having great opportunities in prototyping and short-run manufacturing uses.

The launch of Keech’s new company was a step along a path from “local significance to global relevance,” according to Hermens.

Keech’s ambitions are high, with plans to be a major national supplier and then adding to its collection of the four machines currently up and running.

The most recent addition is the company’s Stratasys Fortus 900 mC, with a build envelope of 914 x 610 x 914 mm and the ability to print in several different materials. Its capacity fits with the company’s plans to target short-run production.

Hermens pointed out that investing so heavily in equipment (their collection of printers was acquired for about $1 million all up) was one thing, but engineering know-how was what provided value to those needing solutions.

“We’re not talking about technicians at machines, we’re talking at people with the input to get the maximum value out of it,” he said.

“We’ve spent a lot of time training these people, so that when a customer comes to us we can actually respond.”

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