May 15, 2017 | By Benedict

A group of Russian organizations that includes the Roscosmos-associated Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation and Tomsk-based electron beam specialist TETA has developed a prototype of an electron beam metal 3D printer. The group says the 3D printer could be used in space.

A group of Russian organizations says it has developed an electron beam 3D printer

Metal 3D printing is, for the most part, quite unlike fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing, the most common kind of additive manufacturing. Where FDM uses spools of stringy plastic, metal 3D printing techniques like selective laser sintering (SLS) and selective laser melting (SLM) use metal powders.

And it’s not just about the different forms these materials take, either. The way they are processed is also totally different. FDM melts its plastic before squeezing it out into shapes onto an empty print surface, while metal 3D printers use a precisely controlled laser to melt or sinter shapes on a bed of powder.

But metal 3D printers can also work a bit like FDM 3D printers. They just require much more advanced technology to do so.

Wire-feed additive manufacturing is about as close to FDM as metal 3D printing gets. That’s because the process uses fine metal wire (similar in form to the spools of stringy plastic used in FDM) as a printing material instead of powders.

But metal, of course, can’t easily be melted. Try feeding metal wire through an FDM 3D printer, and the relatively low-temperature hot-end won’t be able to extrude it. That’s why wire-feed additive manufacturing requires something like an electron beam to supply the necessary energy to process the wire.

And when you’re talking about electron beam additive manufacturing, there’s pretty much only one company you need to know about: Sciaky, a Chicago-based 3D printing company, has perfected what it calls the “EBAM” 3D printing process, and has even supplied its metal 3D printing technology to companies like Airbus and Lockheed Martin.

U.S. company Sciaky currently leads the way in electron beam 3D printing

According to Russian sources, however, Sciaky could finally have a serious competitor.

That’s because a new electron beam metal 3D printer has been developed by a group of Russian organizations that includes the Roscosmos-affiliated Energiya Rocket and Space Corporation, electron beam specialist TETA, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Tomsk Polytechnic University.

The group says its new 3D printer uses an electron beam to process metal wire feedstock, and can produce 3D printed objects measuring up to three cubic meters, up to a weight of around one metric ton.

The group says the 3D printer could even be used in space.

According to TETA, a Tomsk-based electron beam company that has supplied electron beam technology for the 3D printer, the printer can process materials like titanium, tantalum, and wolfram, and could be used by rocket and aircraft manufacturers, potentially bringing Russian aircraft production into a new and exciting age.

At present, we don’t know many details about this collaboratively produced 3D printer, but its existence does raise some interesting questions: How will this machine compare to Sciaky’s now industry-standard EBAM 3D printers? Will the 3D printer accelerate Russia’s plans to build a base on the moon? Will the printer be marketed internationally, or will Russia keep a lid on the technology to gain an advantage over other countries?

A prototype of the electron beam 3D printer will be showcased at U-NOVUS-2017, an exhibition being held in Tomsk between May 17-19. The event is sure to answer some of those questions.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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