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Metal 3D printing in continuous manufacturing

New plant design enables the continuous additive manufacturing of metal components using flexible process chamber expansion between the production chamber and the surrounding area.

Schematic representation of the new design for additive manufacturing processes: Building platform (red) with feed drive and lock (pink) between production chamber (grey) and surrounding area. The length of the component (orange) is thus decoupled from the dimensions of the chamber. (Image: Heiko Neuberger / KIT)

Additive manufacturing processes are becoming increasingly important. 3D printing processes for metals are of particular interest for industrial applications, as they offer a high degree of geometric freedom and design flexibility. Meanwhile, not only prototypes are manufactured using additives, but the processes are also used in small series production.

State of the art

Known processes for metal components are laser sintering or melting, electron beam melting or deposition cladding. Until now, one of the biggest challenges of commercially available systems is, besides the usually long production time, especially the limited installation space. The additive manufacturing of components with dimensions exceeding the system-related installation space is hardly possible. In addition, the economic efficiency of the printers suffers from the service life due to the post-treatment of the components in the installation space.

Technology

KIT scientists – from the Institute for Neutron Physics and Reactor Technology (INR) and the Institute for Thermal Energy Engineering and Safety (ITES) – have successfully developed a plant design for metal 3D printing that avoids the known limitations. The plant is based on concepts for continuous manufacturing, in which the construction platform is inserted into a lock at the bottom of the plant. The platform is lowered by a feed drive as the layer height of the component increases. At the edge of the platform a cover is printed around the component. During the lowering process, this cover forms a sealing surface to the installation space, thus flexibly expanding the process chamber. When the component is completed, the cover is also closed and the lock to the installation space is locked. This allows the component, including support material and excess powder, to be removed and externally, if necessary automatically, post-treated without blocking the system.

Advantages

The new design not only makes the component size independent from the installation space dimensions, but also permits continuous component removal. Production is decoupled from post-treatment, which eliminates the expensive service life. The additive manufacturing of complex, elongated components, such as turbine blades, can be realized for the first time in a printing process without affecting the system design.

Options for companies

KIT is looking for partners to further develop the setup concept and to realize a prototype by modifying an existing printer.

 

 

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Your contact person for this offer

Christopher Kling, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Innovation Manager Mobility, Innovation and Relations Management (IRM)
Phone: +49 721 608-28460

Email: christopher.kling@kit.edu

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