May 31, 2015 | By Simon

Of all of the areas that have seen a lot of attention in the additive manufacturing space, the use of metal in the additive manufacturing process has not seen nearly enough attention as it should be.  While the ability to ‘3d print a metal object’ is more complex and costly than thermoplastic parts, the finished products are arguably much more usable and long-lasting.  Among other examples we’ve seen of metal parts that have been made through the use of additive manufacturing techniques include a titanium bicycle from Portland’s Industry design studio as well as both helicopter and airplane parts.  While the production of creating these metal parts involved the use of laser sintering, a new study that was published in the Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology aims to look at another - and possibly cheaper - way of creating metal parts through the use of additive manufacturing techniques.


The research, which was carried out by faculty from the Engineering and Information Sciences section of the alliterative School of Mechanical, Materials, and Mechatronic Engineering at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, saw the faculty proposing the use of a technique called “wire-feed advanced manufacturing technology”, which involves the use of layered metal wire to create a pre-determined three-dimensional object.  

Among other benefits of the metal wire over the powder-based laser sintering techniques argued by the researchers include the strength of the wire compared to the compacted powder of the laser sintered metal parts.  Because of the low deposition rates of the laser sintering technique, the method isn’t ideal for creating larger objects such as those that are likely to be used in engines or other large mechanical systems.  Additionally, the wire is more environmentally-friendly thanks to a near-100% material usage efficiency.  

Depending on the source of energy, wire-feed additive manufacturing is divided into three different groups which include electron beam, arc welding and laser.  While each has their own strengths and weaknesses, a process developed by NASA called Electron Beam Freeform fabrication (EBF) is among the better methods due to low amount of surface finish machining required as well as the use of significantly less material during the fabrication process.  The process works by feeding the metal wire into a molten pool within a high vacuum environment using a focused electron beam.  Because of the efficiency of this technique, the process allows for bulk metal deposition rates of over 2500 cm3 / h and a much higher level of detail - even at lower deposition rates.

Of course, just like any other new additive manufacturing technology, Electron Beam Freeform fabrication and other types of wire-feed additive manufacturing are not without their fair share of limitations and problems.  Despite this, there is a lot of promising potential for the technology in industries that rely heavily on creating custom 3D printed parts on demand - especially those that need larger parts without the need for fine details.   

The researchers believe that the future is bright for wire-feed additive manufacturing including developments in both the material qualities as well as improvements in the process itself.  



Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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LD wrote at 10/7/2015 8:32:13 PM:

This is an interesting (if slightly biased...) account of how Sciaky's wirefeed additive manufacturing process compares to powder processes:

Jethro wrote at 6/4/2015 5:41:21 PM:

Interesting, This is clearly where the future lies. Take a look at the Metalbot project, one of the methods we are actively working on is Wire-Arc Hybrid printing, where each layer of metal is milled to spec.

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