3D printing company working with Pentagon to develop metal printing machine for military to print gear and vehicle parts on site
The United States Military is about to get
a massive metal printing machine that will allow for gear, vehicle parts, and even weapons to be 3D printed on the fly.
3D Systems was awarded $15 million back in 2019 to develop the "World's Largest, Fastest Powder Metal 3D Printer." The technology includes a 1m x 1m x 600 mm metal printer equipped with nine lasers, "making it very unique in terms of its size and sophistication," reports explain.
The printer is being designed for the Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (ARL) to enhance its ability to develop long-range munitions like missiles, as well as combat vehicles and aerospace parts.
"The new system, aside from having loads of lasers, has a unique feature in the form of its material deposition system," reports explain.
"The military-grade printer will feature a selective powder deposition process. The key word here is selective."
Most existing metal powder bed fusion technologies dump loads of powder onto the build area, after which a wiper comes across and smooths it all down before melting and sintering the top layer into the required form. A major problem with this method is that it generates excess amounts of unused material due to the way the powder is indiscriminately deposited during the production process.
Borrowing from other 3D printing technologies, the 3D Systems machine contains an optical train evolved from its existing DMP platform. It also features a melt pool monitoring system that is designed to maintain consistency during the printing process.
"Additionally, the printer features a heated build plate which reduces thermal stresses," reports add.
American military will soon have whatever it needs right at its fingertips
In the new system, tweaks were made to help reduce the amount of unused powder by only depositing it along the tool path. This means less material usage, faster printing, and less powder reuse, all resulting in reduced production costs.
Because no material is being recycled, the quality of the prints will also be higher as "virgin" powder works better than the recycled kind.
"And if you do wish to reuse the powder, then you can do so knowing that the powder has taken on less oxygen thanks to its sophisticated and efficient vacuum system," reports explain.
3D Systems also developed a unique vacuum chamber that pumps argon, an inert gas, into the production area, helping to keep it chemically pure. This process also helps reduce oxidation, meaning less risk of an explosion from the presence of reactive materials like titanium and aluminum.
The advanced printer is capable of maintaining oxygen levels below 25 ppm in the build chamber, which is significantly better than most other metal printers that are only able to manage an oxygen level range of between 500-1,000 ppm.
"Argon is not cheap either, and this vacuum system uses 10x less argon than other metal printers," reports add.
In a statement, Stephanie Koch, ARL's Advanced Manufacturing, Materials, and Processes Program Manager, revealed that the new technology will soon be ready for the military as progress has been made advancing it "to a full-scale production solution that will enable innovative new capabilities for transformational overmatch."
In Oct. 2020, 3D Systems successfully completed its first test print. Since that time, even more progress has been made that upon release could forever change the way the military operates
and procures needed supplies.
"3D Systems was founded on a spirit of innovation, and our customers play a key role in catalyzing this process," said company co-founder and chief technology officer Chuck Hull in a statement.
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