Additive for Production

Putting lasers to work melting alloys for the additive production of parts.

While many people might think about lasers simply in the context of cutting or welding materials, one of the biggest growing yet probably not thought of applications of columnated light is in additive manufacturing (a.k.a., 3D printing). While there has been the ability to produce metal parts with additive equipment for several years (and polymer parts for longer), one of the challenges has been that of output: remember that one of the other terms used to describe the process is “rapid prototyping,” and prototyping in its classical sense is that of making one-offs. To be sure, there are a number of additive manufacturing systems providers that can produce metal parts at a reasonable rate (albeit one that is dwarfed by conventional metal removal or forming—not taking into account things like how additive can make parts that are unfeasible by machining or how additive is done without the need for things like molds or dies), there is another concern that some might have, which is that things like machining centers have long been engineered to withstand the conditions that are found on the factory floor, the producers of additive equipment might not have the same sensibility of those rigors. (As a point of comparison: it took a long time for lasers to make their way into production for welding and cutting because they were considered to be “too sensitive” to exist along with “traditional” machine tools and other equipment.)

All of which is a roundabout way to get to the DMP Factory 500, an additive manufacturing system from GF Machining Systems (gfms.com), which is well known for its machining centers, EDM machines, tooling, and other manufacturing equipment, and 3D Systems (3dsystems.com), the company that was founded by the man (Chuck Hull) who invented and patented stereolithography. Which is to say that here is a machine that is the sum of knowledge of these two companies with the objective of being capable of producing metal parts (including nickel alloys and titanium) up to 500 x 500 x 500 mm in a production-oriented manner thanks to the use of three 500-Watt fiber lasers, as well as five modules that are engineered to address 24/7 output.

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That is, there is the printer module itself. It can produce parts with layers as thin as 2 μm and as thick as 200 μm, although the typical thickness is on the order of from 30 to 90 μm. The printer module measures 3,010 x 2,290 x 2,820 mm. One of the notable aspects of the printer module is that the build chamber is a vacuum chamber: by reducing the amount of O2, there is no effect on the material specification and the unused power isn’t deteriorated through oxygen exposure.

The printer module can be supplemented by the powder management module, which de-powders parts and collects the unused material for subsequent part production; the removable print module, which moves between the printer and powder management module with the material sealed from the atmosphere; the transport module, which moves the print module between the printer and the powder management module; and the parking module, where the print modules can be stored for subsequent use.

Each of these modules is engineered so as to facilitate continuous production.

One interesting feature of the DMP Factory 500 is the use of the GF Machining Solutions’ System 3R referencing and clamping system, which is used in this case to quickly and accurately position and clamp the build plate throughout processing stages. And it should be noted that 3D Systems brings its 3DXpert software, which manages the part workflow from the design stage all the way through manufacture.

Clearly a solid move toward the industrialization of additive manufacturing.