3D printing giant Stratasys has used Formnext 2018 as a platform to reveal more details about its Layered Powder Metallurgy (LPM) technology currently under development. The process, which was first disclosed earlier this year, is being developed to improve the speed, cost and facility of 3D printing metal parts for short-run applications.
The LPM process utilizes Powder Metallurgy alloys (PM) and a unique binder approach to increase the efficiency of short-run metal parts production, in terms of operations and cost. The technique, which has been in development for several years at Stratasys, is based on the company’s proprietary PolyJet jetting technology and uses readily available metallurgy powders.
As Stratasys has revealed at Formnext, the LPM technology uses a three-step process (dispensing and rolling, compaction and printing). As described in a video demonstration, the process begins with the dispensing metal powder which is then evenly spread into a layer. From there, the metal powder layer undergoes compaction, which results in a dense thin layer of metal powder. Next, a single pass jetting deposits a proprietary thermal ink onto the metal powder layer to define the part’s geometry.
These three steps are repeated, layer by layer, until a part or series of parts are built up. Once the print process is complete, the tray undergoes a cold isostatic pressing stage to increase the density of the parts by up to 99%. The tray then undergoes a dewaxing process that evaporates the printed boundaries, making it easy to remove the metal parts from the build tray. Stratasys also emphasizes that its support removal process enables users to get rid of supports in just minutes and without machining. The last step is to sinter the metal parts to burn out the binder, resulting in a dense metal part.
Because the LPM process relies on metallurgy metals rather than specialized metal powders for AM, production costs can be kept low. The technology is geared towards businesses and manufacturers that require production of pilot-series parts, small batch manufacturing during product ramp-up and end-of-life, as well as custom, lightweight, complex parts. Key industries that Stratasys is targeting with its LPM process are the automotive, aerospace and defense sectors.
“We note that current approaches to 3D printing metal parts leave a lot to be desired–including slow post-processing, painstakingly intricate support removal, and hours of matching and grinding,” said Rafie Grinvald, Director of Product Marketing and Management, Stratasys. “Combined with the high cost of AM powders, this means each part is expensive, with a total cost of ownership that is too hard to justify.”
Grinvald continued: “Our new platform is being designed to transform the current metals additive manufacturing landscape–presenting a viable alternative to typical production methods–and helping customers dramatically reduce the costs of creating reliable, consistent production-grade, metal parts for short-run applications.”
Though the LPM technology is still not on the market, Stratasys has revealed it is currently in closed-loop feedback discussions with OEMs and Tier-1s to advance the process. Additional details about the technology’s specifications and launch dates will be disclosed soon.
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