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GE Additive Unveils AM System for High Heat and Crack-Prone Materials

GE, GE Additive, Spectra H, Arcam EBM, additive manufacturing, 3D printing, high heat, crack prone, serial production
Developed by Arcam EBM, the Spectra H extends GE Additive’s electron beam melting into a serial production system.

One of the big announcements at this year's Rapid + TCT 2018 conference came from GE Additive. The company unveiled a metal additive manufacturing system designed to handle high heat and crack-prone materials. The Arcam EBM Spectra H complements the company’s existing electron beam melting systems. 

GE Additive's Spectra H was developed to use high heat  and crack prone materials in serial production. (Image source: GE Additive)

While the Spectra H has been in development for years, the acquisition of Arcam EBM by GE 18 months ago put the release in a strong market position. “We’ve been working on the product development of this technology for years. Now we have the strength of GE behind us,” Annika Olme, VP of production management at Arcam EBM, told Design News.

Serial Production Of High Heat And Crack-Prone Materials

At the announcement, GE noted that the Spectra H was developed to meet production needs. As manufacturers move toward additive systems for serial production—beyond prototype development—they’ll need larger, faster, industrialized machines that are capable of handling high heat and crack-prone materials, such as titanium aluminide (TiAl). “We began as a research company, but now we’re market driven,” said Olme. “The key we’re looking for is taking this technology and turning it into industrial serial production. We’ve worked to get just the right temperature to melt the material, but not turn it into a gas."

According to GE executives, electron beam melting remains the only commercial additive manufacturing method able to support TiAl production requirements. Initially, the Arcam EBM Spectra H will support both TiAl and Alloy 718. Additional Ni-super alloys will be supported beginning in 2019.

Reducing Cost Through Increased Productivity

The Arcam EBM Spectra H incorporates a range of new features designed to drive down cost by increasing the productivity of the system. The system claims a build speed up to 50% faster than previous systems. Arcam xQam automatic calibration technology is designed to improve the position and focus accuracy, removing the need for manual calibration and reducing the process from three to four hours down to 15 minutes. This innovation will be incorporated on the Arcam EBM Spectra H and all Qplus systems. The project team is currently exploring the potential for future in-situ part qualification.

End-to-End Industrialization

The Spectra H was designed as a standalone production system. During the development, researchers worked to reduce dependency on operators and incorporate automation technologies to improve accuracy. They developed an automated, self-dosing sieve and hopper-filling station process. The powder weight is controlled in the PRS and inside the hopper filling station.

The machine set-up includes automatic powder hoppers that are self-closing when lifted and self-opening when mounted in the machine. The system offers a dust-tight environment and maintains powder batch integrity in all steps of the process. Removal of unwanted particles is handled by a thorough process: a cyclone for small and low-density particles, a sieve for coarse particles, and magnetic traps.

GE Additive’s materials science team is currently exploring future opportunities for a wider range of high heat materials including: nickel superalloys, tungsten, CoCr, stainless steel, and metal matrix composites. “We’ve been working on the ability to conduct high-temperature 3D printing for the aerospace market,” said Olme. “Now there are other relevant industries interested, including orthopedic implants and university research.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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