ROCK HILL, S.C., Nov. 12, 2020 – 3D Systems said it has achieved progress in the creation of what it describes as 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 said it's 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.
Since the $15 million contract award in the third quarter of 2019, 3D Systems’ engineering and applications experts have drawn upon their expertise and experience to develop a unique 9-laser, 1m x 1m x 600mm metal 3D printer.
“When we embarked on this project, we needed a faster way to produce critical components for major ground combat subsystems,” said 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 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 development of new materials.
The company is also integrating its industry-renowned vacuum chamber concept for high, repeatable quality. 3D Systems said its inerting process is faster and consumes at least 10 times less argon than conventional metal 3D printers.
The inerting process reduces the oxygen level during processing to below 25ppm, compared to the 500-1,000 ppm in most conventional metal 3D printers. 3D Systems said this results in 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.