Nov 3, 2016 | By Alec

Big things are happening in the metal 3D printing industry, where hardware is rapidly becoming ready for large volume production. For years, metal 3D printing technology has been seen as ‘not quite there yet’, in part thanks to material, size and build volume restrictions. But these limitations are systematically being dealt with. Just last month, Prodways and CEA Tech Liten unveiled a much faster metal 3D printing technology. Portuguese machine tool manufacturer Adira is now further increasing the appeal of metal 3D printing with the world’s first large-scale Tiled Laser Melting metal 3D printer, which was unveiled at Euroblech 2016. Featuring the biggest ever metal powder processing area, it paves the way for numerous new applications by combining powder bed fusion and direct metal deposition 3D printing technologies, along with sheet metal laser-cutting, in a single machine.

It’s a machine that clearly relies on the extensive machine tool production experience of Adira, a Portuguese world leader in the sheet metal working industry. Among others, they also produce hydraulic, electric and hybrid press brakes, laser cutting machines, robotized bending cells and sheet metal transforming systems, and provide a wide range of materials as well.

On paper at least, Adira thus looks like a company that wouldn’t really benefit from metal 3D printing at all. In fact, you could almost call it a competing technology. But it also gives them a fresh perspective on metal 3D printing, and they are approaching it from a very practical point-of-view. As a workshop, rather than a laboratory, perspective. As a result, they sought to enhance the technology’s efficiency by overcoming size limitations – one of the most unappealing problems of metal 3D printing.

They definitely seem to have delivered with what they call the world’s first large-scale 3D hybrid metal printer. In a nutshell, it combines both Powder Bed Fusion and Direct Metal Deposition 3D printing technologies in a single machine. Their ‘Tiled Laser Melting’ system is essentially a modular production chamber concept featuring the biggest ever metal powder processing area and a system that enables part fabrication beyond the chamber volume. The 3D printer itself features a massive 960 x 960 mm powder bed area, with parts being processed in segments of 300x300 mm. “For the direct deposition process, we have a processing area of 1500x1500 mm, within the same system,” the Portuguese developers added. A patent application has already been submitted.

This revolutionary 3D printing process actually grew out of the need to maintain ideal process conditions, allowing the creation of parts with a volume that is larger than the process chamber. Their solution is to divide existing work areas into smaller segments, which are processed sequentially. This system is further supported by the OptiFocus 3D Scanning capability, allowing for the monitoring of both detailed and highly complex contour shapes or faster processing of filling sections, enhancing overall productivity and processing speed.

At the same time, the TLM 3D printing process includes a modular material feeding system that allows for very quick material changeovers. “Therefore, the downtime of the machine can be minimized, as the cleaning and preparation of the feeding device can be made in parallel, while the machine is processing,” they say. “This is Adira’s clear investment on Value creation and Competitiveness for the Industrial sector, based on an unprecedented open and Movable chamber of Controlled atmosphere, with a Scalable working envelope.”

What’s more, their system features interchangeable toolheads that can be switched for different applications, including laser cutting. After the switch the same build platform is used, allowing for very efficient and concentrated production – perfect for versatile factory floor manufacturing. “The end-user may choose to work on sheet metal in a subtractive way, through laser cutting, or make use of the AM laser technology for repairing, shape modification operations, or even 3D additive manufacturing, by simply exchanging the process nozzle attached to the processing head,” they say.

When taking that enlarged build volume into account as well, this Portuguese machine becomes a very attractive 3D printer that can overcome shape and processing restrictions that are typical for 3D printing. This unprecedented level of flexibility certainly has the potential to greatly increase the manufacturing versatility of any user. It’s what Adira calls the new industrial revolution i4.0, and they are determined to implement similar concepts – including for monitoring machine requirements and the integration of telemetry systems that allow for autonomous status tracking and IoT integration.

In that respect, it is hardly surprising that this 3D printer was one of the competitors vying for the top spot in the ‘Factory of the Future’ competition at EuroBLECH 2016, the 24th International Sheet Metal Working Technology Exhibition that was held in Hanover, Germany, in late October. While the first prize was ultimately claimed by TRUMPF, this Tiled Laser Melting metal 3D printer has the potential to change manufacturing as we know it.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer

 

 

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