3D Systems announced it has achieved significant progress in the creation of the world’s largest, fastest most precise powder metal 3D printer. Through a combination of multiple lasers, large build chamber, and unique material deposition processes, the Company is poised to enable the Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory (ARL) with technology designed to address their specific application needs for long-range munitions, next-generation combat vehicles, helicopters, air and missile defense capabilities. This additive manufacturing solution – comprising materials, hardware, software and services – reinforces 3D Systems’ dedication to customer-centric innovation, creating value through solutions designed to address its customers’ unique application needs.
Since the $15 million contract award in the third quarter of 2019, 3D Systems’ engineering and applications experts have drawn upon their deep expertise and experience to develop a unique 9-laser, 1 m x 1 m x 600 mm metal 3D printer, which is the only of its kind in the industry.
“When we embarked on this project, we needed a faster way to produce critical components for major ground combat subsystems,” said Ms. Stephanie Koch, ARL’s Advanced Manufacturing, Materials, and Processes Program Manager. “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.”
“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,” said Lisa Strama, president and CEO of NCMS. “This project has also provided the unique ability to concurrently plan for and address a complex ecosystem for maximizing the benefit to US manufacturers’ competitiveness from the outset.”
At the end of October 2020, 3D Systems completed the first test print, using a selective powder deposition process. This unique concept limits the amount of material needed to produce very 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 improve deposition quality during the build.
To create this next-generation platform, 3D Systems is leveraging key technologies from its Direct Metal Printing (DMP) platform, which is foundational to the Company’s DMP Flex 350, DMP Factory 350, and DMP Factory 500 3D printers. One of the most important components is the optical train that enables each of the next-generation printer’s nine lasers with its own melt pool monitoring system for enhanced quality control. By employing the same optical system as used in its DMP platform, the Company can leverage the existing material library which has been extensively tested and fine-tuned for optimal performance. Pulling from the data associated with these high-performance materials accelerates the development of new materials.
The company is also integrating its industry-renowned vacuum chamber concept for high, repeatable quality. 3D Systems’ inerting process is many times faster and consumes substantially less argon (at least ten times less) than conventional metal 3D printers. The inerting process dramatically reduces the oxygen level during processing to below 25ppm, which is revolutionary compared to the 500-1,000 ppm in most conventional metal 3D printers. This results in exceptionally strong parts of high chemical purity while powder quality remains high through the lifetime of the material’s usage. This results in a significantly reduced total purchase cost of compressed argon over machine lifetime as well as savings enabled by powder reusability for lower Total Cost of Operation.
“3D Systems was founded on a spirit of innovation, and our customers play a key role in catalyzing this process,” said Chuck Hull, co-founder and chief technology officer, 3D Systems. “Our collaboration with ARL is allowing us to elevate our research and development efforts, achieving many industry firsts on our way to empowering the ARL to meet their goals. Our accomplishments through the first phases of this project will fuel the next, on our way to helping ARL scale their capabilities and bolstering their supply chain.”
According to the U.S. Army Additive Manufacturing Implementation Plan, the Army has been using additive manufacturing (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.