Large metal 3D printer from VELO3D extends further the additive manufacturing of previously impossible-to-make by AM parts

3 min read

​US-headquartered 3D-printing software and hardware developer VELO3D is to launch a new metal printer able to produce one-metre-tall parts later this year. The company says the new model will be the world’s tallest production metal powder laser additive manufacturing system, exceeding the build height of both the SLM 800 and the GE Additive X Line 2000R. Andrew Allcock has more

The first target part for the Campbell, California-based company’s large Sapphire printer is an oilfield drilling component that is currently manufactured by more than five subtractive processes. VELO3D already offers a smaller Sapphire machine offering 315 mm diameter and true Z height of 400 mm with 25 mm-thick build plate.

The customer for the new machine is Houston-based Knust-Godwin, whose VP of technology Mike Corliss says: “There tends to be a trade-off between large-format additive machines and part quality; VELO3D is attractive to us because of their semiconductor heritage and engineering disciplines around process control and metrology. We have confidence that we’ll be able to build mission-critical industrial parts without compromises made to part quality.”

The technical features of the meter-tall Sapphire printer include a 315 mm diameter build plate, dual 1 kW lasers, in-situ optical calibration and many of the same characteristics of the existing Sapphire machine.

VELO3D announced another oil and gas customer in February, Duncan Machine Products (DMP), based in Duncan, Oklahoma (home of global energy company Halliburton). This order was for the existing Sapphire model. Chris Billings, co-owner of DMP says: “We know that AM is essential for our future expansion. We chose VELO3D because their Sapphire printer can handle the most geometric complexity and their support-less process doesn’t require customers to redesign their parts. This will enable us to bid on a larger portfolio of projects. We put VELO3D to the test on a series of customer-driven part builds and, in the end, it was an easy decision.”

DMP has received orders to 3D-print a minimum of 1,500 parts for downhole tools used in onshore and offshore exploration; this order could easily increase by 10x in the next 24 months. Adds Billings: “The conditions under which downhole tools must perform are hostile and include extreme pressure and high temperature situations, requiring a robust and dependable manufacturing solution.”For this specific programme, DMP will be using metal AM to replace investment casting as the manufacturing process.

VELO3D was founded by Benny Buller, who saw a fundamental flaw limiting the speed of additive manufacturing (AM) adoption. That was that to move forward, engineers not only had to adopt the new manufacturing process of AM, but they also needed to adopt a new design process (design for AM - DfAM). Buller‘s vision was the acceleration of AM adoption by eliminating the need for DfAM, allowing engineers to adopt AM one step at a time. He started development in 2014 and the company emerged from stealth mode in August 2018. At that point, it was reported that the company had won backing of about $90 million over the previous four years from investors.

Starting from scratch, co-development of the Sapphire hardware, Flow software and advanced processes have opened the door, reducing the need to re-design parts for AM, so that engineers can realise the potential that lies in metal 3D printing, the company explains.

The company's claim is that it has “the industry’s only SupportFree L-PBF [laser powder-bed fusion] capability and a semiconductor-inspired quality control, [that] enable on-demand manufacturing of production quality parts with an unprecedented degree of design freedom”.

It adds that most 3D-printed metal parts limit their overhang angles without supports to ~45°. To go below that, conventional printers rely on supports that are often laborious to remove and require extensive post-processing. VELO3D allows designers to build overhangs down to zero degrees (horizontal) without supports. By eliminating internal supports, manufacturers can print parts that would typically be considered impossible.

According to the company’s website, VELO3D’s approach is described as follows. “To begin, print preparation software analyses the design and ‘slices’ it into 50-micron thin layers creating instructions for the laser(s). Similar to the speeds and feeds of a CNC machine, the printer runs on instructions or ‘recipes’ for the laser power, spot size, and pattern strategy.

“With VELO3D’s solution, each feature of the part is automatically analysed for the best recipe assignment, with different assignments given for contour, bulk and angles. The software allows engineers to orient and support the part, if needed, to ensure a successful print. The engineer may also choose to simulate the print prior to sending the instructions to the printer to check for any potential issues.

“Just before printing, an operator runs various calibration routines to ensure that the printer is in a ready state. Once the printer receives its instructions, the build begins. For each layer a ‘re-coater’ creates a new coat of planar powder on top of the powder bed. Computer-guided lasers apply pre-determined recipes or patterns on the powder bed to weld each new layer of metal onto the previous layers. This process repeats to create a fully dense, metal part.

“At the end of the print, the part is covered in residual metal powder. The excess powder is vacuumed away and recycled, revealing the printed part. Depending on the application, the part might need to be post-processed, which could include cutting, heat treatment or machining.”

Full machine, software and process FAQs are available here.

Multiple videos are available here: