Mark Barfoot Mark Barfoot
Director of AM Programs

Accelerating AM Growth Coming Out of the Pandemic

March 31, 2022

The last two years have provided many challenges in dealing with the Covid pandemic, causing minimal new developments or product launches in the additive manufacturing (AM) realm. However, we expect that as the pandemic winds down, many new innovations/developments will emerge in the coming months.

Multi Melt poolFor example, we expect machine launches and other announcements related to electron-beam powder-bed (EB-PBF) technology. This market has consisted strictly of a single technology provider (GE/Arcam); however, during the last few years several new companies have entered the market. Wayland Additive, for example, has launched the Calibur3 system featuring its NeuBeam technology for charging the particles, and it avoids the need for a fully sintered part bed to prevent powder from dispersing during the build. This lack of sintering allows for easier powder removal. Jeol also has introduced a new, unique powder-dispersal-prevention system.

Freemelt, meanwhile, is focused on a laboratory-scale system with its entire recoater mechanism located outside of the vacuum chamber, for longer life. The fully open-sourced machine allows for the typical lab tweaking. And, the pro-beam Group recently launched an EB-PBF machine as well, in addition to an electron-beam directed energy deposition (EB-DED) system. Many of these enhancements/systems could dramatically improve throughput and allow for geometries that previously proved challenging with EB-PBF technology.

Laser Powder-Bed Developments

A second area of advancement is in low-cost laser powder-bed fusion (L-PBF) systems.  Several companies—OneClick Metal, Kurtz Ersa and Xact Metal, for example—now offer machines for $100,000 or less. This could allow the adoption of L-PBF by a wider array of companies that don’t need larger parts. And, some of the parts produced by these machines provide similar properties to the big-brother systems but at a lower price point. 

While these lower-cost systems typically have a smaller build size and a slower build rate, as most of them use a gantry system to move the laser vs. a galvo-based system, the new Xact Metal machine launched last fall at Formnext is a galvo-based setup with a $90,000 base price. And, to keep pricing down on its machines, Kurtz Ersa uses laser diodes as the energy source on its system.

We’ve also seen suppliers develop new multi-laser L-PBF systems. Among the newer models: the Additive Industries MetalFab-600 system (10 lasers) and the SLM NXG XII 600 system (12 lasers). SLM claims that its system provides a 20X faster build than a single-laser setup. Pegged for building larger parts, these multi-laser machines also provide the ability to build smaller parts more quickly and could hold the key to improving price point and volume.

Emerging Technologies

  • Cold spray AM, while in existence for a few years, recently has begun to be more widely installed across the United States. Cold spray gives the ability to print quickly and with materials that other systems have difficulty producing; it also allows the application of dissimilar materials. Spee3d leads the AM charge with this technology, but other cold spray systems previously focused on cladding now have moved into the AM space, including those from VRC and Titomic. 
  • Just before the pandemic, Seurat Technologies introduced its Area Printing technology that allows for solidification of entire layers of powder at one time. This could provide the speed improvement for metal AM much like the digital light processing (DLP)-based systems did for stereolithography technology several years ago. Although still in its infancy with an actual product launch not slated until at least 2023, if this technology meets expectations, it could reduce overall AM cost by a factor of 10.  
  • And, Xerox officially has launched a new system resulting from its acquisition of Vader systems. It prints with molten metal droplets and is focused on the aluminum market—of huge interest to many industries.  

Finally, we’ve seen industries other than aerospace and medical begin to adopt metal AM more rapidly, with automotive leading the way as suppliers look for opportunities with the growth of electric vehicles. The biggest challenge here: meeting the production volumes needed. Perhaps the speed improvements discussed above will bring us closer to meeting those required volumes. 

The heavy-industry and energy sectors also have shown increased interest in adopting AM. Typically, manufacturers in these industries look for large-scale parts but at low volumes—a perfect fit for the AM model. We expect DED systems to play a role here. 3DMP

Industry-Related Terms: Bed, LASER, Model, Point
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms


See also: EWI



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