Nov 29, 2016 | By Benedict

The new RAMLAB additive manufacturing hub is almost ready to open its doors at the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands. The lab will contain a Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) 3D printer that uses steel wire as feedstock and which is capable of welding metal parts up to 2 x 2 x 2 meters in size.

Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands, is probably best known for its giant port, which was established way back in the 14th century and which is still an incredibly important trade hub. Excitingly for us, representatives for the port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port and the world’s 10th largest, announced earlier this year that the massive riverside base would be getting a little larger (and more up-to-date), thanks to the addition of a new 3D printing field lab. Fast forward nine months, and the RAMLAB (Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing Lab) is almost ready to open its doors.

Although the RAMLAB, which is currently comprised of 28 additive manufacturing companies from in and around the Netherlands, will be used for various additive manufacturing activities, its crown jewel is a new metal-welding 3D printing system capable of printing objects up to 2 x 2 x 2 meters in size. 3D printing enthusiasts have been hearing snippets of information about the giant 3D printer for several months, but the opening of the RAMLAB will allow participating companies and individuals to see the WAAM welding machine up close.

The large-scale 3D printing machine, which is still covered in plastic wrap as engineers add the final touches, uses two large “arms” capable of manipulating an object while it is being welded, while the welding itself is carried out by a big red robotic welding arm that is attached to an assembly line. “It’s quite unique in the world to have such a system,” commented RAMLAB managing director Vincent Wegener. “We are probably the first and most ambitious lab in the world when it comes to large size additive manufacturing.”

Unlike most metal 3D printing systems, which fabricate objects from metal powders, the WAAM additive manufacturing machine uses steel wire as feedstock, heating the material with an electric arc and using shielding gas to protect the process from airborne contaminants. According to the operators of RAMLAB, the wire feedstock makes manufacturing faster and cheaper, since the steel is already partially formed as it is printed. “This means that, when a propeller is made for example, the welding machine doesn’t have to print the core of the object first, but only has to weld the blades,” Wegener explained. “That saves a lot of time.”

When the WAAM 3D printer is finally fired up, it will be protected by light-blocking blinds and fitted with an exhaust system, both of which are due to be delivered in the next few days. RAMLAB will also be expecting a delivery of 250 kilograms of steel wire, with which the metal 3D printer will be able to fabricate its first items. According to Wegener, one of the most exciting aspects of the WAAM is its ability to work on multiple objects at the same time, with its unique software providing the multitasking instructions to the advanced manufacturing machine.

The WAAM additive manufacturing system has been installed by Valk Welding, a Dutch robotic welding specialist which also provided the RAMLAB with a slightly smaller machine that has been in use for around three months. And although Vak has provided the RAMLAB with its biggest pieces of hardware, a large number of Netherlands-based companies have also pitched in to contribute their own equipment and expertise—something that Wegener and the RAMLAB team are incredibly proud of.

“Everybody is working together on this,” Wegener said. “And that’s the true power of RAMLAB: we don’t waste time talking, but we are working hard to get things done. It’s the Rotterdam ‘can do’ mentality. And that’s what will ultimately make RAMLAB a success!”



Posted in 3D Printer



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