While many users of metal 3D printing / additive manufacturing want to keep their projects quiet for competitive reasons, the user market is large. Various forecasters say that the global size of the metal 3D printing / additive manufacturing market should reach more than $2 Billion by 2020, thanks in large part to the aerospace, healthcare and automotive industries.
Arcam is one the major vendors of metal additive manufacturing (AM) with customers in the aerospace and healthcare industries. At a recent event held at the company’s Woburn MA facility, we had an opportunity to listen to several of its customer success stories.
Honeywell, for example, uses Arcam’s Electron Beam Melting (EBM) additive manufacturing technology to build parts for aerospace use. Noted presenter Don Godfrey, Engineering Fellow at Honeywell, customers include Airbus, Boeing, Gulfstream, Sikorsky, and the U.S. Military Services. Godfrey manages the Additive Manufacturing Technology Center in Phoenix, AZ. While the research and engineering team do a lot of prototyping there, they also use additive for production. In a little over two years, they have done $5 million worth of prototyping and have received $23 million in revenue from aerospace research.
Noted Godfrey, Honeywell’s mission with AM is to be a leader in deploying both polymer and metal AM. A few key benefits include the ability to develop a shorter supply chain as well as optimizing design and shortening engineering development cycle time.
The technology center includes EOS, Concept Laser, SLM and Arcam machines. They primarily use the Arcam EBM technology to work with IN718 material, a big material for aerospace applications. Inconel 718 is a precipitation hardenable Ni-base “superalloy” that exhibits high strength at elevated temperatures. Applications of this alloy are found in gas turbine engines, aerospace, valves and fasteners, rocket motor components, and cryogenic storage tanks. In one example that Godfrey showed, they took a transition duct that was formerly cast and welded and printed it in an Arcam additive machine as one solid piece, which saved cost in material and assembly.
To work with IN718, the AM build bed needs to reach a temperature of about 1000 C, which is something EBM technology can deliver. A minor drawback is that the part must cool for several hours or a day before removing it from the machine. But EBM delivers a few advantages over laser sintering or laser melting AM, including less material waste, the ability to handle materials that require higher temperatures, and fewer energy density variations that can lead to microstructural defects in parts.
JRI Orthopaedics, out of Sheffield, England is also a customer of Arcam. Said Jeremy Whiting, new product development manager at JRI, they use EBM technology to produce various joints and implants. The medical field faces the challenges of finding good bone stock and dealing with a range of complex joint replacement issues; each patient’s joint deteriorates differently, some more severely than others. Each additively made joint is unique to deal with these particular circumstances.
For JRI, the benefits of EMB technology are the need for less support material when building a joint or bone implant, rough surface finishes which are perfect for encouraging tissue growth over the implant, the ability to stack parts for a higher build rate, and excellent density and low residual stress due to build temperature. In addition, JRI has found that some laser additive processes experience energy density variations, which can introduce microstructural defects in the parts.
As a side note, veterinarians can also use these metal AM orthopedic implants on pets and livestock.
Arcam’s focus is to change how metal products are manufactured. In addition to building machines for additive manufacturing, they develop and sell powder metals and offer additive production services. Noted Magnus Rene, President and CEO of Arcam, metal AM will replace casting, forging, and machining in many applications.