What is Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing is a new, emerging and disruptive manufacturing technology and is generally considered as one of the key technologies for manufacturing in the future. AM brings a number of advantages to the manufacturer compared to the more traditional manufacturing technologies.

Traditionally, the design process is a trade-off between functionality (performance) and manufacturability. The constraint is significantly reduced through AM which enables cost-effective and unprecedented component complexity. Complex and light-weight designs can be manufactured without the need for hard tooling. Wastage of material is significantly reduced during the manufacturing process, and time to market can be drastically reduced.

AM makes the futuristic vision possible of being able to design a complex 3-D part using a CAD program and to manufacture it by electronically downloading the model to a machine capable of rapidly producing what has become known as a “near net shape” part.  This creates huge potential for major efficiency improvements in the manufacturing process and offers the potential of vastly reducing material waste resulting from machining such parts from solid material.

The Aeroswift Technology

The Process

The Aeroswift 3D printing technology makes use of the Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) process to manufacture parts directly from metal powder.  Thin layers of metal powder are sequentially deposited and, based on CAD data, melted using a high power laser.

CAD data of a part is imported and sliced digitally into thin (50μm) layers or “images”. Inside the Aeroswift machine, an equally thin layer of power is then scraped over a build plate and a laser melts the first “image” into the layer of powder, melting the powder into a fully dense layer of the part. The build plate is then lowered, after which the second layer of powder is deposited and the next “image” is melted onto the previous layer.  This process is repeated, building the part layer by layer.

After the process has completed, the finished component is removed from the powder. The remaining powder is sieved and can be fully reused, reducing waste dramatically.

 

 

The Advantage

We developed the Aeroswift technology to overcome two major constraints that have impeded the growth of laser powder bed fusion as an industrial manufacturing process:

  • Limitations on the maximum part size that can be produced by AM technology
  • The relatively slow production rates and subsequently high cost at which parts can be manufactured

The Aeroswift technology increases both the production rate and the maximum part size possible with the laser powder bed fusion process. The Aeroswift technology alloys for much higher production rates, primarily through the use of a very high power laser. State of the art fibre laser technology, which combines multi-kilowatt laser power, with exceptional focusability, not only increases melting efficiency but also allows increased part size while maintaining good part resolution.

The increase in part size that can be produced is further promoted by a combination of a patented scanning strategy and vapour extraction system.  Our unique vapour extraction system is critical in ensuring that the laser power is consistent throughout the build, delivering consistent results for builds up to 2m in size.  High temperature preheating (up to 500°C) further allows for the production of larger components by reducing thermally induced residual stresses in parts.

 

Aeroswift machine, producing two topology optimised quadcopter frames (600mm x 600mm)

Aeroswift Machine Specifications

DescriptionSpecification
TechnologyPowder Bed Fusion (FDM)
Energy source5 kW fibre laser
Min build volume (min)0.3 m x 0.6 m x 0.6 m (X,Y,Z)
Max build volume (max)2 m x 0.6 m x 0.6 mm (X,Y,Z)
Operating environmentArgon
Max preheating temperature500 ⁰C
Min layer thickness50 µm
Min wall thickness (parts)0.6 mm
MaterialTi6Al4V (others possible in future)