April 24, 2024

UPM’s Innovative Lean Approach to Build Plate Management

“Our goal is to manage our materials effectively and educate our customers on options. In the past, customers were offered a catalog product when purchasing a build plate from a manufacturer, leaving them with limited choices. However, we aim to change that by empowering customers to think beyond the catalog and envision a product that fits their unique needs.”

Chris Prue, Applications Development Manager

Additive manufacturing (AM) is primarily recognized for its innovative designs and engineering flexibility but in many cases, it is also touted as a go-to for reducing production lead times and costs. As AM technology continues to evolve, one company is extending a similar approach to its supply of build platforms—driving the concept of cutting waste and working more efficiently.

United Performance Metals (UPM) Additive, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a global AM supplier specializing in optimized build plate solutions, supply chain logistics, and finished part manufacturing. The company serves diverse industries, including aerospace, medical, and oil and gas, as well as the Department of Defense (DoD).

“We believe that our customers would much rather focus on the value they add to designing, printing, and engineering parts, as opposed to worrying about a piece of metal they are printing on,” says JJ Johnson, general manager of UPM Additive Solutions.

While a build plate may appear as an afterthought in the larger scheme of AM production, its functionality is a crucial factor in the success of a print, particularly for companies of scale. Build plates provide a stable and flat surface, helping to ensure prints adhere correctly to the surface and maintain structural integrity throughout the printing process.

In 2020, UPM, a division of O’Neal Industries (ONI), one of the nation’s largest family-owned metal distribution processing companies, identified an opportunity to foster innovative solutions within the AM supply base. At the request of a key customer, UPM built its first platform, which led to the creation of value-added solutions. As a result, UPM officially launched its additive division in 2021.

Photo credit: UPM Additive Solutions

AM Forward drives visibility

A year later, just as UPM Additive steadily established its unique foothold within the AM supply base with several customers, the U.S. Biden Administration began galvanizing its efforts to bolster American manufacturing supply chains among small and medium-sized suppliers through its AM Forward initiative.

UPM, whose newest additive division was the launch site of President Biden’s announcement, gained increased industry visibility, further cementing itself as a prominent player. During the event, UPM hosted leading U.S. corporations—Honeywell, Boeing, General Electric Aerospace, Siemens Energy, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon Technologies—while increasing coordination among smaller suppliers. The initiative has also helped broaden awareness of long-standing supply chain gaps.

The UPM philosophy: refining AM supply chain management

UPM’s idea for build plate platform management grew from pain points the company noticed across larger and smaller businesses. Regardless of size, consistent issues, such as material waste and logistic inefficiencies, continued to impact production.

For example, depending on the application, build plates can be used up to 12 times; however, due to a lack of supplier support, Johnson says some companies discontinued use after a single application. Moreover, repurchasing and refurbishing build platforms can quickly become cumbersome for companies, which is where UPM excels.

As an industry forerunner, UPM began answering a tall order for the AM sector, modernizing logistics with its comprehensive services and programs. Today, UPM Additive services over 100 AM customers, providing a wide variety of services, including its refurbishing program, door-to-door delivery, post-processing, and bespoke build plating—all of which streamline production and shave significant dollars from companies’ bottom line.

Photo Credit: UPM Additive Solutions
Photo Credit: UPM Additive Solutions

Advancing AM through strategic partnerships 

When UPM Additive began its journey in the AM field, the company quickly realized that its expertise extended beyond producing build plates. As UPM’s additive division continues to grow and develop, it recognizes that aligning with initiatives like AM Forward and through its membership with America Makes is a significant step in furthering its mission to educate the wider industry about its services and capabilities.

“We’re working to educate and drive the industry through vehicles such as America Makes so that we’re able to develop a broader network of people to help expand this supply chain management philosophy and grow additive,” says Prue.

Learn more about United Performance Metals.

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