Written by Jerred Ziegler.
When producing metal products with traditional manufacturing techniques, it’s nearly impossible to create complex designs within the metal — things like embedded sensors or electronic components. In most cases, trying to do so would result in a less-dense metal that would not hold up under stress. Columbus, Ohio’s Fabrisonic has developed a way to embed these kinds of systems into full density metals using 3-D printing technology.
Rather than creating metal products using heat, Fabrisonic uses low-temperature, high-frequency sound waves to weld layers of metal foils together. The result is solid metal products built in layer-by-layer, allowing for unique combinations of metals that each retains their own properties.
“Most of our customers are in the aerospace industry and appreciate our ability to mix metals together to create new composite metals,” said Mark Norfolk, president and CEO of Fabrisonic. “We make armor for vehicles with a mix of alloys and can print one layer of each metal at a time. This creates a product that has properties of armor different than you can find anywhere else.”
Norfolk is a metal scientist with an MBA, and has held many management positions in the manufacturing industry including a position at John Deere. In 2007 he was hired by Edison Welding Institute (EWI), the nonprofit that developed Fabrisonic’s technology. EWI applied for a grant through Ohio Third Frontier and was awarded $2.5 million in 2008. In 2011, EWI officially founded Fabrisonic as a standalone company.
“The funding from Ohio Third Frontier in 2008 allowed the Edison Welding Institute team to design and build a fully operational 3-D printing machine,” said Norfolk. “That made it easy to start going to commercial entities and selling our services.”
Norfolk says the unique aspects of production that can be accomplished using 3-D printing will continue to change manufacturing over the next 20 years. 3-D printing allows for distributed manufacturing, meaning businesses can once again manufacture their parts and products close to home. Norfolk is hopeful this could lead to more manufacturing jobs in America.
When Norfolk started Fabrisonic in 2011, he was the only employee. Today, the company has six employees, with plans to grow to 10 by the end of 2017. Norfolk says Ohio’s manufacturing base makes it the perfect state for a 3-D printing business like Fabrisonic.
“The technical team who helped me build this technology is in Ohio, and we build all of our 3-D printers here. There are a lot of people in this state who are experts at designing and implementing 3-D prints,” said Norfolk. “That wouldn’t be possible in other places without the strong history of manufacturing like Ohio.”