The improved operational economies of today’s metal additive manufacturing (AM) are giving users new confidence in the technology as a viable companion to traditional shape-forming processes. New technologies delivering this confidence include multiple-laser powder bed systems (L-PBF), increased chamber sizes and more sophisticated in-process monitoring.
But there’s one more hurdle AM needs to surmount to achieve broader acceptance: Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM). To unlock AM’s design freedom, this limitation imposed by conventional AM providers must be modified, reduced, and even cast aside entirely.
Minimal structural supports are still necessary in some AM designs. Using them in many cases, however, is a signal that most AM systems’ innovation is badly stalled. For many conventional providers, chamber environments, recoater methods, laser strategies and build software are not advancing far enough to throw this big AM-crutch away.
Why is solving this DfAM issue so important? Because we are in dire straits with supply chain agility. Despite booming demand, the ability to deliver products reliably is fragile. AM doesn’t provide all the direct answers for production of durable goods. But for industrial metal products, advanced AM can more reliably get oil and minerals out of the ground to processors, or quickly turn around parts that keep aircraft flying. Yet in every field, from energy to aerospace, vast improvements still wait to be unlocked through greater design freedom. This includes new and legacy designs. When systems innovation has addressed quality, cost and DfAM, then digital factories can flex to meet shortfalls and on-demand inventory needs. The products are also better. Breakthrough-level better!
Take recent achievements by IMI Critical Engineering, which designs, manufactures and installs customized, highly-engineered flow control systems for new plants and oil & gas operations. Their customers are now field-testing a new choke-valve cage, designed with their proprietary DRAG technology. It consists of an array of discrete, multi-stage flow paths that better control fluid velocity and eliminate past problems with vibration and erosion. Using Velo3D’s Sapphire L-PBF printer, IMI was able to manufacture complex internal channels and overhangs down to near-zero degrees in angle. That shatters the DfAM 45o rule.
The component has significantly shorter lead times than its legacy predecessor and a much more direct, all-digital supply chain. Able to be produced to demand, this component is a prime example of how AM—free of DfAM—can transform performance, cost and supply chain agility.
Aerospace breakthroughs are perhaps the best-known area where advanced, DfAM-free AM systems have brought radical change. Today rocket nozzles, combustors, heat exchangers and many other parts are seeing a design-and-manufacturing revolution that is redefining the “impossible.” Launcher, a developer of high-performance rockets for small satellites, is creating systems to deliver payload to space orbit cost-effectively by breaking design restraints. Using zero-degree technology, they print all key aspects of their turbopump, including a rotating impeller that functioned perfectly on its first 30,000-rpm test print. That’s a sign of quality and a view into what is now possible for the agile manufacturing so desperately needed. Stepping beyond DfAM is simply part of the evolution of manufacturing.
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