From the outset of metal additive manufacturing (AM) in the 1990s, its potential within countless industries was readily apparent. Over the course of 30 years, however, we have only witnessed a handful of cases where companies successfully transitioned AM parts into full production. Despite the benefits of performance and supply chain flexibility, metal AM has remained primarily for prototyping.
VELO3D now stands to push the industry further. By creating the infrastructure and oversight to make metal AM repeatable and reliable, we intend to industrialize this technology as a global, scalable solution. Recently, I gave a presentation as part of the VELO3D VELOVirtual series to discuss the cutting-edge conditions created through our full-stack solution that enable a revolution in metal additive manufacturing.
Watch the full presentation below:
The Push to Innovate, and the Barriers That Block It
When discussing innovation, it is helpful to have the end goal in mind. What are we trying to create—what is the “dream? For me, and for VELO3D, the dream is that companies with global footprints will have the ability to easily transmit printable files across their networks, locally print their parts on localized AM machines, and have them in their hands quickly. In short, printing the part where you need it, when you need it.
There are some sizable barriers, however, that prevent this more globalized vision of on-demand metal additive manufacturing. Between risks in calibration and the limitations of legacy systems, there are just too many disconnections that can enable a reliable printing process that is also repeatable.
So how does VELO3D crack that code? The answer is a full-stack process flow that adds oversight at every stage of the AM process, from design software (VELO3D FlowTM), through the printing process using VELO3D Sapphire® printers, down to quality assurance (VELO3D AssureTM). By vertically integrating every aspect of the AM process, VELO3D is able to scale in a way that doesn’t threaten the quality of parts produced.
The Key Puzzle Pieces That Enable Scalability
Creating the conditions for a globally scalable additive manufacturing process is no simple task. Metal AM’s legacy of prototyping has created systems that specialize in making only a few runs of any given part. Creating identical copies of parts has been challenging. Even during the same build, differences can emerge between parts located at different spots on the build plate. This variance is one of the reasons that VELO3D started from scratch with new software and new hardware solutions focused, from day one, on production. At a high level, we have worked on building three key puzzle pieces that, when fused together, form the requirements to enable the desired scalability.
The first piece is qualification and calibration of AM printers. One of the major roadblocks to scalability in AM is relatively simple: printing the same part twice in the same way is incredibly challenging. A major part of addressing that challenge is by asserting intense testing and qualification parameters across the entire printing process. For VELO3D, this qualification is threefold. First, there is a site acceptance test to determine that the tool is operating within specification, then there is a Sapphire® printer qualification, and finally a part qualification.
All of these stages of oversight ensure that VELO3D is working to eliminate variations in laser powder bed fusion (LPBF). By creating consistency regardless of product serial number or point in time—a process that also includes weekly calibration of all Sapphire® printers—VELO3D is able to create stability in printing that makes it repeatable.
The second piece of the puzzle to ensure scalability is qualification of parts. One of the main ways VELO3D helps ensure this part quality is by simplifying the design process. In previous AM processes, parts go through multiple translations, from CAD file, to STL, to build files that can vary wildly between printing environments. But because VELO3D software and hardware work in tandem, part manufacturing works off of much simpler files that offer less room for variance or error.
And, because all of the environments are so meticulously controlled, if there are errors within the printing process, they become repeatable. If you can recreate an error, it makes it much easier to fix. Changing files, or altering other variables in the print (i.e. the print material) become much more manageable to solve for.
Creating One System of Record for All Parts
The third piece of the puzzle that enables the dream of AM scalability to be realized is creating one system of record for all parts, regardless of where they’re printed. Because of the wide variance in printing outcomes, previous systems of additive manufacturing couldn’t be relied upon to build a simple, repeatable database of files that can be shared across a company’s product lifecycle management (PLM) system.
This strict adherence to industrialization that VELO3D champions from printer to printer, and from part to part, means that once a file is ready to print on one Sapphire® printer, it’s ready to print on any Sapphire® printer.
This universality is tremendously powerful, because now anyone who is authorized to access the PLM system can upload the VELO3D print file to their Sapphire® metal AM printer and start printing the part right away.
Through printer and part matching, companies can now upload identical print instructions to achieve identical parts anywhere in the world; this unlocks a distributed supply chain for companies, with significantly faster turnaround times compared to traditional AM processes.
While the entire VELO3D process sounds like a vision of the future of AM that countless industries would hope to rely on one day, it’s a reality now. Though there are still steps to be taken that will help streamline the process even further, VELO3D has already achieved the repeatable and reliable processes needed to create a truly scalable solution to industrialize metal additive manufacturing.
Contact us today to get the conversation started.