The European Federation for Welding, Joining, and Cutting (EWF), Porto Salvo, Portugal, has reported on the results of a cooperative research project to create a multiple-robot modular metal Additive Manufacturing machine integrating both additive and subtractive manufacturing capabilities, and capable of producing large components directly from a CAD drawing. The project, titled LASIMM (Large Additive Subtractive Integrated Modular Machine), involved ten partners.
According to EWF, the end result of LASIMM is a fully functional machine that includes advanced software to manage the entirety of the complex production process, integrating Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technology alongside other advanced manufacturing processes and robotics that allow it to produce metal components up to 5 m long and 3 m wide.
To assess the machine’s feasibility as a production tool in real-world scenarios, the project members have tested the manufacturing of aluminium, steel and titanium components, said to bring the concept one step closer to mainstream use.
The modular approach of the machine’s system architecture is said to enable flexible reconfiguration, making it possible to develop and assess several machine concepts. No other setup operations are believed to be required apart from those necessary to load and unload the machine at the beginning and at the end of the manufacturing/repair process.
The LASIMM project also evaluated additional features, such as cold-work, metrology and inspection, to be added into the machine. EWF explains that the possibility of integrating these extra capabilities within the machine, from rolling to peening and in-situ allowing, would enable the production of fully functional parts with superior mechanical properties that, in parallel, could lead to major cost and production time savings.
Another unique feature of the machine, reports the EWF, is its capability for parallel manufacturing, featuring either multiple deposition heads or concurrent addition and subtraction processes. This parallel manufacturing capability requires that the machine architecture is based on robotics. To ensure that the surface finish and accuracy needed for an engineering component is obtained, a parallel kinematic motion (PKM) robot is employed for the subtractive step.
It is estimated that it will take up to one year for the industrialisation of the project to take place, after which the complete hybrid cell will be ready for commercial distribution. The deliverables are said to include a modular self-contained platform with TRL (Technology Readiness Level) 6 (on a scale of 1 – 9, with the latter as the highest). The platform will extend the current build size of complex parts to up to 6 m in length and hundreds of kilograms in weight, in aluminium and steel, with excellent mechanical properties that match, or even surpass, equivalent forged alloys.
The ten project partners include the EWF, BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd., Foster + Partners Limited, Vestas Wind Systems A/S, Cranfield University, Global Robots Ltd., Loxin2002, S.L., Helmholtz-Zentrum, Geesthacht Zentrum fur Material – und Kustenforschung GMBH, Delcam Ltd. and Instituto Superior Técnico. This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.