Sep 11, 2014 | By Alec

Last week, the Atlanta-based 3D printing manufacturer DDM Systems announced that their latest LAMP 3D printers will be made commercially available over the second quarter of 2015.

These LAMP 3D printers, which is short for Large Area Maskless Photopolymerization, will have a reconfigurable build volume. This means that this printer should be suitable for both small-lot prototyping (10 x 10 x 12 inches) as well as actual production up to a size of 24 by 24 by 24 inches.

The system will include all material preparation, handling and post-processing sub systems, and will come with software that will enable digital build data preparation and design rule verification. The printers will also come supplied with an 'initial set of ceramic material formulations optimized for the production of high quality industrial parts.'

Dr. Suman Das displays a ceramic mold produced directly from digital designs using LAMP technology. In his right hand, he holds a single-crystal superalloy turbine airfoil that was cast using a ceramic mold of the kind he holds in his left hand. Photo: Gary Meek

This novel technology could change how industry designs and casts complex, costly metal parts. As the P in LAMP already suggests, this new 3D printer uses photopolymerization printing technology which, as DDM themselves claim, will replace "lost wax' investment casting methods used for thousands of years.'

In investment casting process, molten metal is poured into an expendable ceramic mold to form a part. The mold is made by creating a wax replica of the part to be cast, surrounding or "investing" the replica with a ceramic slurry, and then drying the slurry and hardening it to form the mold. The wax is then melted out – or lost – to form a mold cavity into which metal can be poured and solidified to produce the casting.

Today, most precision metal castings are designed on computers, using CAD software. But the next step – creating the ceramic mold with which the part is cast – currently involves a sequence of six major operations requiring expensive precision-machined dies and hundreds of tooling pieces.

By contrast, DDM Systems' high-resolution LAMP process accretes the mold layer by layer by projecting bitmaps of ultraviolet light onto a mixture of photosensitive resin and ceramic particles, and then selectively curing the mixture to a solid.

The technique places one 100-micron layer on top of another until the structure is complete. After the mold is formed, the cured resin is removed through binder burnout and the remaining ceramic is sintered in a furnace. The result is a fully ceramic structure into which molten metal – such as nickel-based superalloys or titanium-based alloys – are poured, producing a highly accurate casting.

A collection of molds made through the large area maskless photopolymerization (LAMP) technology and airfoil components produced using them. Photo: Gary Meek

While the old trial-and-error development phase often requires many months to cast a part, the LAMP process lowers the time required to turn a CAD design into a test-worthy part to about a week. It also allows you to create objects previously not possible to print with other technologies. And no additional handiwork will even be required.

Furthermore, the 2015 LAMP 3D printer should possess an 'unprecedented ability' to produce high quality parts at high speed, and will be capable of producing small batches or large numbers at once. The company says that they can even confidently promise us that users will never have to choose between resolution, size or production speed, which would definitely make this an excellent 3D printer. According to their own tests, the LAMP 3D printer will also be very efficient when compared to others. They claim it will reduce waste material by 90%, while lowering fabrication costs by an equally impressive 65%.

The company was founded in 2012 by Suman Das and John Halloran, Co-Principal Investigators for a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded Disruptive Manufacturing Technology (DMT) project that began in 2007. This collaboration culminated in the invention and optimization of LAMP technology.

DDM's CEO Dr. Das stated that direct digital manufacturing enabled by LAMP should allow designers to create increasingly sophisticated pieces capable of achieving greater efficiency in jet engines and other systems.

Das also noted that the new process not only creates testable prototypes but could also be used in the actual manufacturing process. That would allow more rapid production of complex metal parts, in both low and high volumes, at lower costs in a variety of industries. All this does certainly make this LAMP 3D printer a very intriguing and impressive piece of technology.

"When you can produce desired volumes in a short period without tooling," he said, "you have gone beyond rapid prototyping to true rapid manufacturing."

Check out this short overview of this intriguing LAMP 3D printer here.

Posted in 3D Printers

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