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3D Systems Develops Nine-Laser AM Machine for U.S. Army Research

Thursday, November 12, 2020

From Formnext 2020... 3D Systems reports the first test print completed on a nine-laser additive manufacturing (AM) machine for the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory (ARL). The 3D printer, resulting from a $15 million contract awarded in 2019, features a 1 m by 1 m by 600-mm build chamber and unique material deposition processes and is expected to help propel supply chains associated with long-range munitions, next-generation combat vehicles, helicopters, and air- and missile-defense capabilities.

“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 the ARL Advanced Manufacturing, Materials and Processes program. “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.” 

In October, 3D Systems completed the first test print, using a selective powder deposition process. This concept limits the amount of material needed to produce large parts by depositing the material only where it is needed in the build―accelerating time-to-final-part and reducing material cost. The build chamber also includes a heated build plate to reduce thermal stress and also to improve deposition quality during the build.

To create this next-generation machine, 3D Systems is leveraging key technologies from its Direct Metal Printing (DMP) platform, employed in the company’s DMP Flex 350, DMP Factory 350 and DMP Factory 500 3D printers. A key DMP component applicable to this project: an optical train that provides each of the next-generation printer’s nine lasers ( 3D Systems did not provide wattage information) with its own melt-pool-monitoring system for enhanced quality control. By employing the same optical system as used in its DMP platform, 3D Systems can leverage an existing material library that has been extensively tested and fine-tuned for optimal performance, according to 3D Systems officials. Pulling from the data associated with these materials reportedly is accelerating development of new materials for use in these systems. 

3D Systems also is integrating its vacuum-chamber concept, a rapid inerting process that reportedly consumes substantially less argon than conventional metal 3D printers, to aid in part quality and repeatability. The inerting process reduces the oxygen level during processing to below 25 ppm, as compared to the 500- to 1000-ppm levels experienced in most conventional metal 3D printers, according to company officials.

The inclusion of six high-contrast single-lens reflex cameras within the build chamber delivers a comprehensive view of the build in-situ. Each camera is positioned above the powder bed with direct top-down view. This unique viewpoint eliminates the need for image manipulation, resulting in the ability to obtain build data in real time, thus accelerating the process. The firmware within the system is capturing all digital input, including sensor data, positional information, melt-pool data and powder-bed pictures, into an SQL database. This enables full insight into the build and provides for part and process validation and qualification. Additionally, 3D Systems is leveraging the AM software used within its DMP platform to optimize designs and streamline processes to accelerate print times and reduce material consumption.

According to the U.S. Army Additive Manufacturing Implementation Plan, the Army has been using AM for two decades to refurbish worn parts and create custom tools. Once developed, the Army will leverage its manufacturing experience by placing the new large-scale systems in its depots and labs. Subsequently, 3D Systems and its partners plan to make the new 3D printer technology available to leading aerospace and defense suppliers for the development of futuristic Army platforms.

“Development and demonstration of this first-of-its-kind technology has far reaching implications across our industrial base as it shapes and transforms the supply chain around it,” says Lisa Strama, president and CEO of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), which is working with the ARL to advance AM. “This project has also provided the unique ability to concurrently plan for and address a complex ecosystem for maximizing the benefit to U.S. manufacturers’ competitiveness from the outset.”


See also: 3D Systems

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