Machesney Park company uses new 3D printing technology to make metal


MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (WTVO) — Technology moves so fast if you blink, you miss it, and at Superior Joining Technology, they’re on the cutting edge of tiny tech, making big leaps forward.

This isn’t our first time visiting the shiniest welding shop you will ever see. In the years since our last stop at Superior Joining Technology in Machesney Park, the technology has advanced dramatically.

If you didn’t know the machines were operating, you’d have no clue: it’s so quiet.

The future of making things is called “additive manufacturing.” You may have heard of it as “3D printing.”

Instead of plastic pieces being produced, Superior Joining is 3D printing metal.

“This powder has the consistency of corn starch. It’s super fine,” says Thom Shelow, Superior Joining’s founder and vice president, of the metal powder which can be used to create anything from stainless steel to aluminum, or even titanium.

A 100 watt laser melts each layer making tiny pieces that are about 90 milimeters cubed.

“So, what happens is, this one raises up a certain amount…a scraper comes across and scrapes a specific amount, a thickness of a layer of material onto that space, and then the laser fuses th geometry, fuses those particles together,” Shelow said.

The detail work can be so small it’s hard to see.

“This is kind of a stepping stone for us,” said Scott Porter. “Maybe down the road, we won’t even have to fabricate anything.”

“Not being tied to using only structural shapes, like angle irons or whatever, it allows the designer to focus on the precise function of the part and just build only that,” Shelow said.

Superior Joining has had the 3D printer since April. Shelow says he bought it for several reasons: to train his team on emerging technology, to come up with procedures and processes, and then test the pieces being produced.

“Can it take the heat? Can it take the stress? Can it take the vibration?” he asks.

NIU student Todd Durham just started his internship with the company. His focus, all summer long, will be the machine.

“We don’t have a metal one like this at NIU, so it’s really great, being able to make functional parts rather than just a nice prototype for something. So, it’s a really great experience and I’m really excited for it,” Durham said.

Shelow says he’s having conversations with local companies about applications for the additive manufacturing machine. Long term, he thinks it may grow into another business entity of its own.

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