INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH 3D PRINTERS: MATSUURA MACHINERY (Nippon.com)

Customized titanium bones (left) and implants (right) made using the Matsuura LUMEX Avance-25.

St. Paul, MN (November 16, 2017) —— Media worldwide have been focusing on the potential of 3D printing in recent years. One leader in the industrial use of this technology is Matsuura Machinery Corp., located in Fukui Prefecture. This article profiles the company and its Matsuura LUMEX Avance-25 machine, which has revolutionized the production of dies and molds.

Matsuura LUMEX Machine Cuts Costs and Labor Time
Matsuura Machinery Corp., located in Fukui Prefecture, developed its first hybrid metal laser sintering and milling machine back in November 2002. The Matsuura LUMEX Avance-25, now in its fourth generation, forms three-dimensional objects one layer at a time by placing a layer of metal powder on the processing table, sintering it with laser light, and then repeating the same process with the next layer. As the object is built up, its surface is simultaneously finished with high-speed milling.

Chief researcher Gotō Motohiro alongside the prototype Matsuura LUMEX machine at the development laboratory of the Industrial Technology Center of Fukui Prefecture.

Molds made in this way can be finished with much greater precision than by using other methods. The Matsuura LUMEX makes it possible to arrange ducts within a die or mold in any way desired, greatly improving the cooling effect of plastic poured into the mold and raising productivity. On top of this, the objects produced are strong enough for use as finished products, not just interim molds.

The Matsuura LUMEX was the first machine to combine the two jobs of forming and milling in a single unit. As a result, design and processing times that previously took two weeks to one month can be shortened by a third and costs can be reduced by up to half. Because it allows for fully automated operations, the machine can also reduce labor costs. In all these ways, the machine can be a godsend for manufacturers desperate to cut costs.

Amazing Product
When Matsuura was developing the prototype of the Matsuura LUMEX, the term “3D printer” was not yet in common use. At first the prototype was given the tongue-tripping name, “metal laser sintering hybrid milling machine.” The machines were not quick to catch on because few people were aware of additive manufacturing technology and the cost was prohibitive, at around ¥70 million per machine.

But the situation has changed over the past year or two, with the debut of personal 3D printers sold at electronics stores for as little as ¥100,000 or less. Since these devices build up plastic or other materials and give them shape, it appears at first glance as if they create three-dimensional objects out of thin air. In the media they were hailed as “magic boxes,” and the 3D printer boom took off.

There is growing awareness in society of this technology to create three-dimensional objects. Today the impact of the 3D printer movement can be seen everywhere from the level of personal use to industrial applications. The spread of this technology in Japan has benefitted from the introduction of a national system to subsidize investment in cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printers.

Despite the 3D printer boom, Matsuura had stuck with the name “metal laser sintering hybrid milling machine.” But the company finally gave in and changed the name to “hybrid metal 3D printer.” Company president Katsutoshi Matsuua explains: “No matter how much we insisted that our product was a ‘metal laser sintering hybrid milling machine’ or ‘additive fabrication machine,’ most people still viewed it as a 3D printer.”

Matsuura LUMEX Solves the Problem of Wear
Over the years, the product lineup of Matsuura Machinery has evolved from lathes and milling machines to machining centers (numerically controlled machine tools with automatic tool changing functions)—and now Matsuura LUMEX. Today machining centers account for 95% of Matsuura Machinery’s sales, but President Matsuura thinks Matsuura LUMEX will change the situation. “Inquiries have been increasing recently, and it seems like the new product’s time has finally arrived. We anticipate that Matsuura LUMEX sales will be on the scale of around three billion yen by 2020.”

Matsuura LUMEX was not created in a vacuum. It is the result of efforts to raise the productivity of machining centers. In pursuit of high-speed, high-accuracy machining, the company always ran up against the problem of cutting tool wear at higher speeds, which reduced accuracy.

The question was how to overcome the problem of tool wear. The company’s solution, explains President Matsuura, lay in the possibility of using high-speed lasers to cut the material without contact. “I wondered for a long time whether lasers could be applied to metal machining to avoid the problem of wear and degradation,” he recalls.

Around that same time the Industrial Technology Center of Fukui Prefecture also began using laser technology for locally produced products, such as textiles, eyeglass frames, and machines. Looking to innovate processing methods, the center applied for a joint project sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology aimed at mobilizing regional assets. Development of a hybrid metal laser sintering and milling machine fell within that framework, and an industry-government-academia project that included the University of Fukui was launched in December 2000.

Katsuki Kazuo, director of the center and a project member, recalls that time. “It just so happened that our development project to use lasers corresponded perfectly with the timing of the initiative of Matsuura Machinery. And the president of Matsuura Machinery at the time, Masanori Matsuura, was asked to direct our project. So, we were fortunate that our group came together to work on laser development at the exact moment that a company based in Fukui was trying to advance the industrial applications of lasers. It may seem random, but I almost think it was fate.”

Matsuura’s head office and plant is in the city of Fukui, not far from the Sea of Japan. It is the birthplace of the company’s founder and first president, Toshio Matsuua. He returned to his hometown in August 1935 to start a subcontracting shop for lathe parts with the skills he had acquired during an apprenticeship in Tokyo. He was 21 years old at the time.

“Toshio was a charismatic craftsman,” says Katsutoshi Matsuua, the grandson of the company’s founder and its current president. “If a machine was good, he knew it immediately. My father [Masanori] also had good intuition as the company’s leader, and was the type to charge ahead once he made a decision. In this way, our first president built the company’s manufacturing foundation, and the second president went out into the world to sell our products and build up the business. My task is to take what they built and make it even stronger.”

Matsuura is also participating in a national project that began in fiscal 2014 to develop technology for a world-class, next-generation industrial 3D printer. The aim is for the machine’s accuracy to be five times greater, and its modeling speed ten times faster, than the level of machines made overseas. If the company reaches these ambitious goals, its global presence is likely to expand further. (reprint from: Nippon.com)

For more information on Matsuura, please contact your exclusive Matsuura distributor or Marketing@MatsuuraUSA.com. Matsuura Machinery’s exclusive distributor network works alongside Matsuura to define the ideal manufacturing method and oversee the complete project – from concept to production, from training to after sales technical and service support.

Matsuura Machinery USA, Inc., located in St. Paul, MN is the U.S. subsidiary of Matsuura Machinery Corporation in Japan. Since 1935, Matsuura has delivered unmatched excellence in high speed and high precision CNC machine tools. From full 5-axis, vertical, horizontal, linear motor or multi-tasking CNC machine tools, Matsuura has been the forerunner in designing innovative technology and manufacturing solutions to a variety of industries around the globe. Matsuura Machinery USA, Inc. provides the service, applications, and technical field support that have always been the Matsuura standard for business.

For more information on Matsuura LUMEX, contact: LUMEX@MatsuuraUSA.com or visit: matsuurausa.com.