Usually, we're telling you about bigger 3D printer build volumes, not smaller ones. But this is a bit different. Optomec has taken a highly sophisticated 3D printing process for metals and made it available in a smaller machine.
Engineers have been producing metal components, not just prototypes, for several years using Optomec's version of selective laser sintering (SLS), which the company calls LENS (Laser Engineered Net Shaping). The components built have been relatively large, with a process work envelope of 900 mm x 1,500 mm x 900 mm (35.43 inch x 59.0 inch x 35.43 inch) for the company's largest machine, the 850-R. That one deposits material such as standard steels, titanium, and nickel alloys at up to 500 g/hr (1.1 lb/hr).
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Optomec's original, large 850-R system is used for making final production parts or prototypes, and repairing metallic components, such as this casing. (Source: Optomec)
Optomec says that for many applications the mechanical properties of components built with the process are equivalent to those of wrought metals. For example, independent testing has shown that the fatigue strength of Ti 6-4 matches the fatigue strength of wrought annealed material. Yield strength and tensile strength of the 3D-printed material were actually better at 973 MPa and 1077 MPa versus 834 MPa and 973 MPa, respectively, for Ti-6Al-4V, a titanium/aluminum alloy. Among other things, Ti-6Al-4V alloys are used for structural components on commercial aircraft.
Originally developed at Sandia National Laboratories, the LENS process has been used for prototyping and manufacturing military and aerospace components, as well as medical instruments and implants. It can be used for adding layers of metals to an existing component to improve its wear resistance, or add features to large cast components, such as a flange or boss. The process has also been optimized for repairing military and aerospace metallic components, such as restoring their inner diameters or inside blind holes. (Watch a video demonstrating the process below.)
The new machine, the LENS 450, is built with the same basic technology, but it has a much smaller process work envelope of 100 mm x 100 mm x 100 mm (3.94 inch x 3.94 inch x 3.94 inch). It also has a much slower (about 6.25 times slower) maximum deposition rate of 80 g/hr (2.82 oz/hr). It comes with a 400W fiber laser, a motion control system, and proprietary process control and part preparation software. The machine prints titanium, stainless steel, cobalt chrome, and superalloys.
So why would anyone want one of these? Interestingly, Optomec says it has developed this model to help proliferate the use of metals in additive manufacturing. The company is aiming the printer at university mechanical and materials engineering departments and labs, for the purpose of training the next generation of engineers in AM, and specifically, AM with metals.
The first machine will be delivered to the University of Pittsburgh's department of mechanical engineering and materials science, for use in the department's advanced manufacturing program. The university is a member of the federally sponsored National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). Wouldn't it be interesting if this became a trend?
What I found more compelling was the concept of self-assembly and self-reconfiguration, rather than the lego-like MIT digital materials in the link I gave before: http://cba.mit.edu/docs/papers/06.09.digital_materials.pdf Was this the MIT digital materials you referred to? If not, can you tell us what you were referring to?
NadineJ -- I think the "more compelling" concept is a matter of timeline. The MIT papers do like digital assembly similar to Lego blocks. An article in Wired in recent months discussed a method being used to construct skyscrapers in China in two weeks using a modular approach.
We have seen the open software approach be applied to hardware in the Arduino and BeagleBone and the modular shields we stack upon them. Xerox PARC has done work on 3D printing of circuit boards. These concepts are making traction in the marketplace already.
Ann's earlier article http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=261138 seems to be more futuristic where objects act like (maybe become?) living organisms and adapt their shape and purpose to the environmental need at hand. Science fiction such as the Transformers movies always inspires invention of the future.
Nadine, I googled "MIT digital materials" and came up with several links that seem to be talking about LEGO-like "printing", although it looks more like assembly to me. At the micron level described in a 2009 paper http://cba.mit.edu/docs/papers/06.09.digital_materials.pdf one might be able to call this "digital assembly," but at larger scales that terms seems misleading. Is this what you were referring to?
In any case, it seems to be related to self-assembled and self-reconfigurable devices and materials, on several scales, which DN covered here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=261138 and which I find much more compelling.
It's important to remember that the technology for SLS with metals and with plastic is not the same, so it's not a matter of a 3D printer company using one line of printers for either materials set. It's also a really different expertise set. So far, plastic-based companies like Stratasys are partnering with metals-based companies like Optomec, and 3D Systems has bought the expertise.
To give engineers a better idea of the range of resins and polymers available as alternatives to other materials, this Technology Roundup presents several articles on engineering plastics that can do the job.
The first photos made with a 3D-printed telescope are here and they're not as fuzzy as you might expect. A team from the University of Sheffield beat NASA to the goal. The photos of the Moon were made with a reflecting telescope that cost the research team £100 to make (about $161 US).
A tiny humanoid robot has safely piloted a small plane all the way from cold start to takeoff, landing and coming to a full stop on the plane's designated runway. Yes, it happened in a pilot training simulation -- but the research team isn't far away from doing it in the real world.
Some in the US have welcomed 3D printing for boosting local economies and bringing some offshored manufacturing back onshore. Meanwhile, China is wielding its power of numbers, and its very different relationships between government, education, and industry, to kickstart a homegrown industry.
You can find out practically everything you need to know about engineering plastics as alternatives to other materials at the 2014 IAPD Plastics Expo. Admission is free for engineers, designers, specifiers, and OEMs, as well as students and faculty.
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