Oct 11, 2016 | By Alec

As the saying goes, records are meant to be broken, and it seems that British researchers from Cranfield University have potentially just set a new 3D printing record. That is, they have successfully used their in-house Wire + Arc Additive Manufacture (WAAM) 3D printer to build a six meter long, 300kg double-sided 3D printed aluminum spar, which could very well be the world’s biggest 3D printed object.

Naturally, we will have to wait for Guiness World Records, which has  become very interested in 3D printing over the last few months, to verify this. In the summer, for instance, they awarded a 3D printed Batman outfit with the record for most functional gadgets on a cosplay suit for the Guinness World Records 2017: Gamer’s Edition. The costume featured twenty-three parts including smoke bombs, a grapnel gun, and a respirator. And back in August, researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) were officially awarded the most coveted 3D printing record: for the biggest 3D printed object in the world. That 3D printed part was a whopping 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall tool 3D printed for Boeing.

But this new part, made by the Cranfield University team, could trump that, as 17.5 feet is only 5.3m – which would make this 6m 3D printed spar the new record holder. The large part was 3D printed on the university’s new 10-meter long metal 3D printer, designed to manufacture titanium parts for aerospace applications with the help of a local shielding device.

This 300kg, 6m long structure is a perfect example of what 3D printing technology can do for the aerospace industry, the researchers say, as well as for the oil and gas, automotive, marine, and energy industries. “Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on medium to large-scale components by the aerospace industry each year,” Additive Manufacturing specialist and professor Stewart Williams said of their technology. “There is great potential for significant cost savings in terms of waste and production efficiency if we can transform the way these parts are manufactured. This demonstration clearly shows the potential of the WAAM process with this newly-acquired machine for changing future manufacturing processes.”

This record-breaking 3D printed spar was designed to test the limits of this new WAAM 3D printer and to assess the challenges of building structures of that size. Already, the 3D printer is suggesting that huge cost saving opportunities of up to 70 percent can be seen, while production times can be reduced from more than a year to just a few weeks. Research has also shown that even more superior mechanical properties can be achieved through 3D printing, and qualification programs of a number of aerospace OEMs are being supported with the WAAM 3D printer.

Though still being tested, this 3D printed aluminum bar demonstrates huge potential. Cranfield has therefore already set up the WAAMMat consortium, which includes 20 industry partners and 13 other universities, and they are preparing the commercialization and maturation process for the WAAM 3D printer. Right now, thirty people are involved with the 3D printer, while around 70 projects are relying on it. Could this be the 3D printer that takes metal 3D printing into the mainstream?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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