The improved operational economies of today’s metal additive manufacturing (AM) give users new confidence in the technology as a viable companion to traditional forming processes. New technologies providing this confidence include multi-laser powder bed (L-PBF) systems, increased chamber sizes, and more sophisticated in-process monitoring.
But there is another hurdle that AM must overcome to achieve wider acceptance: design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). To unlock AM design freedom, this limitation imposed by conventional AM vendors must be changed, reduced, and even abandoned entirely.
Eliminate supports, improve design freedom
Minimal structural supports are still required in some AM designs. Their use in many cases, however, is a signal that the innovation of most AM systems is severely blocked. For many conventional vendors, chamber environments, overlay methods, laser strategies, and building software don’t progress far enough to throw away that big AM crutch.
Why is solving this DfAM issue so important? Because we’re in dire straits with supply chain agility. Despite booming demand, the ability to deliver products reliably is fragile. AM does not provide all the direct answers for the production of durable goods. But for industrial metal products, advanced AM can more reliably get oil and minerals from the ground to processors, or quickly transform the parts that allow planes to fly. Yet in everything from energy to aerospace, vast improvements are still waiting to be unlocked through greater design freedom. This includes new and legacy designs. When systems innovation has addressed quality, cost, and DfAM, digital factories can adapt to meet gaps and on-demand inventory needs. The products are also better. Breakthrough level better!
Consider the recent accomplishments of IMI Critical Engineering, which designs, manufactures and installs custom, high-tech flow control systems for new plants and oil and gas operations. Their customers are currently field testing a new choke cage, designed with their proprietary DRAG technology. It consists of a network of discrete, multi-stage flow paths that better control fluid velocity and eliminate previous problems with vibration and erosion. Using Velo3D’s Sapphire L-PBF printer, IMI was able to fabricate complex internal channels and overhangs down to near zero degrees. This breaks the DfAM 45o rule.
The component has significantly shorter lead times than its predecessor and a much more direct, fully digital supply chain. Capable of being produced on demand, this component is a great example of how AM, without DfAM, can transform supply chain performance, cost and agility.
Aerospace breakthroughs are perhaps the best-known area where advanced AM systems without DfAM have brought drastic changes. Today, rocket nozzles, combustors, heat exchangers and many other parts are experiencing a design and manufacturing revolution that is redefining “the impossible”. Launcher, a developer of high-performance rockets for small satellites, creates systems to cost-effectively deliver payload to space orbit by breaking design constraints. Using zero degree technology, they print all the key aspects of their turbopump, including a rotating turbine that performed flawlessly on its first test print at 30,000 rpm. It is a sign of quality and a vision of what is now possible for the agile manufacturing so desperately needed. Going beyond DfAM is simply part of the evolution of manufacturing.