Sciaky, providers of electron-beam additive manufacturing (EBAM) services, says it will start selling these machines commercially in September. The company has used its EBAM 3D printing technology for making very large, high-value, metal prototypes and production parts for aerospace and defense OEMs.
Until recently, Sciaky had kept the EBAM process, which it dubbed "direct manufacturing," in-house and operated its machines as a service to the military and Tier 1 contractors, including DARPA, the US Air Force, Lockheed, and Boeing, among others. The term "direct manufacturing" is often used to describe an additive manufacturing (AM) process that makes net or near-net metal production-worthy parts.
Sciaky will start selling its electron-beam additive manufacturing (EBAM) machines commercially in September. The company's direct manufacturing technology, which combines an electron beam welding gun with wirefeed additive layering, can make parts as large as 19 ft x 4 ft x 4 ft. (Source: Sciaky Inc.)
As we told you last year, Sciaky's AM metals technology combines an electron beam welding gun with wirefeed additive layering. This method can make parts as large as 19 x 4 x 4 ft, such as an entire wing box for a jet fighter plane. It's used for making parts from high-value metals such as tantalum, titanium, Inconel, and stainless steel. To ensure consistency and repeatability, an adaptive, closed-loop control system automatically maintains key process variables throughout a part's build process.
In Sciaky's EBAM system, a fully articulated, movable electron-beam wirefeed welding gun deposits metal layers on a substrate plate. Depending on the part, deposition rates are from 7 to 20 lbs per hour, or up to 40 lbs per hour depending on the material, according to a data sheet you can download here. Deposition rates are faster than deposition of the very fine layers in powder metal beds commonly used in selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing methods. The process makes near-net shapes, which require only a small amount of post-production machining.
Sciaky promotes the use of EBAM systems for making high-value prototypes and production parts, as well as for repairing parts and making replacement parts in the field. The company also provides electron beam welding services, as well as arc welding and resistance welding.
It's interesting that one suggested application is an "entire wing box for a jet fighter plane." Having worked in engineering flight test early in my career, I know how rigorous the testing is for wing flutter -- harmonic vibration that could threaten snap-off of a wing. I know that the best 3D software can analyze and suggest the best shape of parts for strength and weight. My question to anyone out there is: When a 3D printer lays down a bead of metal upon another, does the strength of the total part come close to that of a part stamped from sheet metal or a part cast in one piece?
78RPM, that fighter jet wing box wasn't a suggested app--it's one Sciaky has already made, as we reported last year at this link given in today's story: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=258652 Regarding relative strength of metal parts made with 3D printing, we've also covered that subject extensively. The most recent is NASA discovering that 3D-printed metal rocket engine injectors actually perform better than welded ones over repeated tests: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=274042 There's also extensive discussion in the comments to that story about the strength issue, and in the comments to this one: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=273908
The repeatability of robot-printed parts should be better than some of the diecasting processes and also better than parts machined from stock materials. Of course it will require adequate maintenance of the machinery and the right materials, as would any high quality production method.
One very interesting option is the changing of alloys for different parts of the assembly, which could allow varied properties all in one part. Presently that is a very expensive thing to do, so this couold lead to a good cost reduction, as well as new design options.
Keeping larger machines accurate has always been a challenge, but it has been met by quite a few machine building companies, so it will not require a breakthrough to make it happen. The real challenge will be in the programming and in the materials handling aspects of the process.
William, thanks for another of your most interesting ideas: changing alloys for different parts of an assembly. I agree, it's tough to maintain accuracy and repeatability in large machines, but the fact that this technology is use in aerospace production parts says a lot, doesn't it?
Ann, holding higher levels of accuracy is demanding, and doing it over larger areas certainly requires taking additional challenges into account. Consider that as metal is machined, the internal stresses that were restrained by the portion that is removed now are free to change the size of the part a bit. One more challenge to building a bigger machine that is accurate. So correcting for these changes is extra effort that adds to the expense of making a big machine accurate. But they are indeed producing accurate large machines, and developing new methods of 3D printing, as well as improving those methods that have been used for many years. That part is alos quite interesting.
But I am still waiting for the announcement of a "replicator" like they have i Star Trek. BUT how would one "print" a cup of coffee?
This technology improves each year and the ability to provide components of greater size seems to be a weekly event. Sciaky has obviously proven to their impressive list of clients they can do the job. Also, the deposition rates are truly astounding. With R&D, time is money and proving a design relative to form, fit and function using "additive" manufacturing makes sense for even the most skeptical engineers and engineering managers. Excellent post Ann. Very informative.
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There’s a good chance that a few of the things mentioned here won't fully come to fruition in 2015 but rather much later down the line. However, as Malcolm X once said, "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today."
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