3D Systems advances ‘world’s largest and fastest’ metal AM machine for U.S. Army lab

November 12, 2020

3D Systems Corporation, Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA, reports that it has achieved significant progress in the creation of what it states is the world’s largest, fastest, most precise powder metal Additive Manufacturing machine.

Through a combination of multiple lasers, large build chamber, and unique material deposition processes, the company explains that it 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 defence capabilities.

Since the $15 million contract award in the third quarter of 2019, 3D Systems’ engineering and applications experts have developed a 9-laser, 1 m x 1 m x 600 mm metal AM machine which is said to be the only one 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,” stated 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.”

Lisa Strama, president and CEO of NCMS, commented, “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. This project has also provided the unique ability to concurrently plan for and address a complex ecosystem for maximising the benefit to US manufacturers’ competitiveness from the outset.”

At the end of October 2020, 3D Systems completed the first test build, using a selective powder deposition process. This concept is said to limit 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 states that it 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 AM machines. According to the company, one of the most important components is the optical train that enables each of the next-generation AM machine’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 notes that it is also integrating its vacuum chamber concept for high, repeatable quality. 3D Systems’ inerting process is said to be many times faster and consumes substantially less argon (at least ten times less) than conventional metal Additive Manufacturing machines. The inerting process reduces the oxygen level during processing to below 25 ppm compared to the 500–1,000 ppm in most conventional metal AM machines. This results in exceptionally strong parts of high chemical purity while powder quality remains high through the lifetime of the material’s usage and reduces total purchase cost of compressed argon over machine lifetime.

According to the U.S. Army Additive Manufacturing Implementation Plan, the Army has been using 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 AM machine available to leading aerospace and defence suppliers.

“3D Systems was founded on a spirit of innovation, and our customers play a key role in catalyzing this process,” reported 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.”


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