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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

RAPID 2014: New Developments in 3D Printing (and Scanning)

June 11th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

I’m in Detroit this week attending the RAPID Conference & Exhibition produced by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).  The RAPID conference was co-located as part of a bigger event called the Big M — Manufacturing Convergence. The overall theme of the manufacturing event is “Shaping the Future of Manufacturing.” This theme was especially appropriate for RAPID and its focus on 3D printing and scanning.

This is the best attended RAPID event ever with well over 2,500 attendees from 27 countries.

I’ve seen a number of interesting things on the exhibit floor, but have been most intrigued by a new emerging class of hybrid 3D printers that employ both additive manufacturing (AM) and subtractive (conventional machining) methods. Some of the hybrid 3D printers included the following:

Hybrid (Additive & Subtractive Manufacturing) Machine by DMG Mori 

DMG Mori (Laser Tec 65) – This hybrid machine integrates laser deposition welding and 5-axis milling. Since the machine deposits metal through a powder nozzle, the company claims it is 20 times faster than generation in a powder bed. The 5-axi milling machine is from DECKEL MAHO and has an integrated laser head HSK-interface.  Change between milling and laser operations is automated, and the machine has a large work envelope that  can handle pieces up to 25.6 in. diameter, 14.2 in. height, and 2,205 pounds. Depending on the laser an nozzle geometry, the machine can process wall thicknesses ranging from 0.004-0.2 in.

Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (AMBIT) – This has been available since September 2013 by providing AM for CNC and CNC for AM. It does this by adding an AM head with capabilities that converts a CNC machine to a hybrid machine that can change between manufacturing processes, similar to changing milling cutters. It is available with laser processing heads for powder-fed cladding, marking, drilling, and re-melting. It can accommodate manual or fully automatic tool/process changeover from milling to an expanding range of AM processing heads.

MC Machinery Systems (LUMEX Avance-25) – This machine is the product of a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp.  in partnership with Matsurra Machinery Corp. The LUMEX Avance-25 provides one-machine, multiple processes for manufacturing complex molds and parts by combining metal laser sintering (3D SLS) with high-speed milling. It can create mold die parts in one piece with porous sintering for gas vents, as well as creating conformal cooling channels. The company claims a 60% reduction in production time for creating mold tools because it can create deep ribs with no EDM work.

Optomec (LENS Print Engine) – This is currently a proof of concept where the company purchased a Fadal 3-axis  machining center on eBay and outfitted it with a LENS (Laser Engineered Net Shaping) Print Engine. It employs a laser and powdered metals for building fully dense structures directly from 3D CAD models. The CAD model is sliced into a tool path that instructs the LENS machine how to build a part. According to the company, the LENS Print Engine can be housed in any suitable machine tool, such as a CNC mill, lathe, machining center, etc.

An interesting twist on 3D imaging is CGI’s subtractive scanner that is a cross-sectional scanning system for inspecting plastic parts. Parts are potted in a resin. The potted device is then secured and sliced away subtractively in 0.001 in. layers. As each layer is removed, the newly exposed cross-section is scanned. When all layers have been removed, the point cloud from the scanned data is reconstructed into a 3D CAD model and compared with the original CAD data. Although a part is destroyed in the process, it provides excellent data for first article inspection.

This was the 21st edition of RAPID, and everything I saw, heard, and experienced strongly indicated to me that as exciting as the past has been, the potential for 3D printing and scanning is just beginning to be realized, and the future looks very bright.

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