3D Systems Develops Large, Fast Powder Metal 3D Printer for Army
Edited by AM Staff
3D Systems has announced it has achieved significant progress in the creation of the world’s largest, fastest and most precise powder metal 3D printer for the Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory (ARL). The printer is designed to provide a faster way to produce critical components for major ground combat subsystems, and may result in revolutionizing key supply chains associated with long-range munitions, next-generation combat vehicles, helicopters, air and missile defense capabilities.
At the end of October 2020, 3D Systems completed the first test print on a 9-laser, 1 m × 1 m × 600 mm metal 3D printer, which includes a combination of multiple lasers, large build chamber and selective powder deposition process. The build chamber includes a heated build plate to reduce thermal stress and improve deposition quality during the build.
“When we embarked on this project, we needed a faster way to produce critical components for major ground combat subsystems,” says Stephanie Koch, program manager for ARL’s advanced manufacturing, materials and processes. “The progress that has been made on this project to date is monumental. We look forward to the coming months as we progress to a full-scale production solution that will enable innovative new capabilities for transformational overmatch.”
To create this system, 3D Systems utilized key technologies from its Direct Metal Printing platform. Critical components include an optical train that gives each of the printer’s nine lasers its own melt pool monitoring system for enhanced quality control; a vacuum chamber concept that enables a faster inerting process that results in exceptionally strong parts of high chemical purity while powder quality remains high through the lifetime of the material’s usage; and six high-contrast, single-lens reflex cameras within the build chamber that deliver a comprehensive view of the build in-situ.
A contract manufacturer routinely reverse engineers and 3D prints prototypes of aerospace legacy parts for more confident production.
The WAAM system has demonstrated the ability to produce a titanium aircraft part, but titanium in particular requires protection against oxidation.
GE Additive’s Ehteshami says, “To make these parts the ordinary way, you typically need 10 to 15 suppliers, you have tolerances, you have nuts, bolts, welds and braces.” With additive, “all of that went away.” The helicopter project is a detail in a story worth knowing.