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

Velo3D Releases Unique Metal Hardware & Software AM Solution With New Approach

August 23rd, 2018 by Jeff Rowe

The march of new metal AM machines continues as this week, Velo3D announced its comprehensive metal additive manufacturing (AM) solution comprised of the Sapphire system, Flow print preparation software, and Intelligent Fusion technology. According to the company, the solution solves some difficult AM challenges including product design limitations, part-to-part consistency, process control, and cost-effective manufacturing.

“Additive manufacturing has the potential to be revolutionary,” said Ashley Nichols, general manager at 3D Material Technologies (3DMT), a leading metal additive manufacturing services bureau. “Systems are getting bigger, but not delivering on the promises of metal additive manufacturing. Through a collaborative partnership, 3DMT and Velo3D are unlocking new applications, pushing the envelope of what is currently considered possible. We look forward to continued success, and to delivering on the promises of the potential of metal additive manufacturing.”

Sapphire System

The Sapphire system is a laser powder bed metal additive 3D printing system designed for high-volume manufacturing. Sapphire is capable of building complex geometries including designs with overhangs that are less than five degrees and large inner diameters without supports. To deliver part-to-part consistency, Sapphire’s integrated in-situ process metrology enables closed loop melt pool control. To maximize productivity, the Sapphire system contains a module that enables automated change-over with offline unpacking.

The Velo3D Sapphire automated system in action

Build envelope is 315 mm diameter, z-axis 400 mm. Build materials include IN718 and Ti6AlV with a typical throughput of >60 cm^3/hour of IN718.

Flow Print Preparation Software

Flow print preparation software includes support generation, process selection, slicing and simulation of complex part designs to validate execution feasibility before the build. Geometrical feature-driven processing enables low angles below 5 degrees. In addition, deformation correction technology enables the user to produce parts without the need for iterations, achieving a first print success rate of up to 90 percent. Flow minimizes the need for supports, reducing typical support volume by 3-5 times, which removes or at least reduces the labor intensive post processing necessary with conventional approaches.

Supporting a part may seem like a straightforward proposition, but there are significant hidden costs and complexities in this process. The first is in the design of the supports. Deciding where to put supports takes design time and effort during print preparation, because support shape and placement is not a simple process; it requires experience and judgement in order to get the best results.

A frequent outcome is that designers err on the side of over-supporting low-angle surfaces, in order to avoid build failure. This results in many supports that later need to be removed, and depending on the complexity of the supports, this can be a difficult proposition, requiring multiple set-ups on a CNC mill, or wire EDM, or a turning step. It takes time to print so many supports; this adds to the total build time, and build cost is primarily a function of build time.

The Velo3D Sapphire System is a 3D metal printer for high-volume manufacturing

With its unique, patented technology, the Velo3D Sapphire system can dramatically reduce the need for supports and the associated costs and complexities.

When analyzing per-part cost, one must add post-processing time and cost to print time in order to get a true comparison. Many Velo3D parts can be finished with a single setup on a 3-axis mill, saving money and production time.

Ensuring that a part meets all dimensional specifications can be difficult. Deformation occurs because of stresses caused by thermal expansion and contraction of the material during processing. In typical practice, this deformation is corrected through iterative changes to the geometry. These tweaks require reprinting the part, assessing the change, and trying again until the results are as intended.Velo3D’s Flow software includes deformation correction, which allows the user to produce parts that meet dimensional specifications without the need for iteration. It calculates deformation; this is then compensated for by pre-deforming the original geometry in such a way that the final part is dimensionally correct.

Shrouded impeller 3D printed on the Velo3D Sapphire System without internal supports

Intelligent Fusion Technology

Enabling an end-to-end integrated workflow, Intelligent Fusion is the technology that powers Flow software and the Sapphire system. Intelligent Fusion optimizes the AM process by combining thermal process simulation, print prediction, and closed-loop control during print execution.

Intelligent Fusion optimizes the additive manufacturing (AM) process by combining thermal process simulation, print prediction, and closed-loop control during print execution. It’s an innovative approach.

“Four years ago, we set out with the bold vision of creating technology that could manufacture parts with any geometry to take additive manufacturing mainstream,” said Benny Buller, founder and CEO of Velo3D. “Our approach relies on creating deep insights in physics fundamentals, enabled by research, characterizing and understanding of core mechanisms, developing intelligent process control through software simulation and in-situ metrology. Today, Velo3D is working with some of the top OEMs and service bureaus creating parts that were once considered impossible.”

Metal additive manufacturing is moving beyond prototyping and proving to be a viable production method for some higher value end- use parts. There is still, however, quite a bit that stands in the way of widespread adoption. Throughout the entire workflow of producing a part, from the design to quality assurance of the final part, metal AM, in particular powder-bed fusion systems in their present capabilities, have many unresolved shortcomings. These constraints are preventing metal additive manufacturing from living up to its promises to enable the impossible and to prove that it could produce dimensionally accurate, production-quality parts.

Velo3D invented Intelligent Fusion technology to overcome inherent limitations and usher in new capabilities for additive manufacturing.

There are three aspects of the Intelligent Fusion process that define the breakthrough of this new approach:

Process Simulation
The Velo3D approach to optimizing the AM process relies on an understanding of the relevant physics and on a proprietary physical simulation capability developed in-house.

The Velo3D simulator takes the approach of an understanding of physics fundamentals so that a wide range of new, enabling physical processes can be explored. It predicts a print outcome by simulating a full print deformation of complex parts. This in turn informs an Object Pre-print Correction (OPC) utility that counter-deforms a part, assuring dimensional accuracy of the final part that inevitably will undergo deformation during printing.

The Velo3D simulation engine generates approximate simulation/data-driven parametric models that are used as sophisticated Feedforward instructions for the printer and work in conjunction with the real-time Closed-Loop Control (CLC) capability.

The extensive real-time metrology of process data during a build provides a rich source of data that can be used to refine the approximate parametric models used in the Velo3D control systems. This capability coupled with powerful machine learning techniques allows for iterative refinement of the AM process by fleet learning.

Geometry-Based Detection
Intelligent Fusion enables printing at low angles without the use of print supports. Specialized processes were designed to minimize thermo-mechanical distortions and ensure high-quality surfaces at build angles as low as five degrees.Highly intelligent and sophisticated software, developed in-house, uses geometric feature detection to apply the optimal physical processes to the appropriate features. To be able to do that, each geometric model is decomposed into distinct geometric features and the appropriate optimal process is then applied automatically. Additionally, the geometric feature detection algorithms use information from multiple layers, leveraging information from previous layers to define the print strategy for the next layer.

The software is capable of modifying or adjusting parameters of the Feedforward model and passing them on as instruction sets to the printer.

Closed-Loop Control
To achieve consistent material properties across a printed part and reduce print variability from build to build, the Velo3D system ensures that every relevant build parameter is monitored and controlled throughout the build process. This is done by applying real-time process control during the build, a key component of the success of the Velo3D solution. Natural process instabilities caused by minute hardware and powder variations as well as the uncertainties in the Feedforward simulation model can cause the process to drift outside the acceptable range, thereby affecting the final part outcome. Intelligent Fusion solves this problem by measuring in real time the melt pool thermal signal and using that as real-time feedback for a Closed-Loop Control (CLC) system. The CLC system then adjusts process parameters in-situ to ensure consistent outcomes.

Thermal sensors perform in-situ real-time monitoring of the melt pool to ensure that the thermal signals remain within an acceptable range, thereby ensuring that the process is successfully applied.

A major factor in enabling sophisticated real-time process control, and Intelligent Fusion in general, is Velo3D’s development of proprietary controller hardware and software, giving us the ability to control and coordinate every aspect of the build execution. This level of control is key to consistent outcomes and reduced variability.

Velo3D systems are currently used by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and manufacturing service providers, but I’m assuming they will generally be available for sale in the near future. No price for the Velo3D Sapphire System was disclosed, but a company spokesperson said the cost is comparable to other 3D metal printing solutions available in the market. To me this means ~$100,000+.

I’ll be seeing the Velo3D folks in a couple of weeks at IMTS in Chicago and I’l be especially interested in the quality of the parts out of the machine and the level/degree of post processing required for obtaining a finished part. I’ll let you know what I discover.

Editor’s Note: It’s interesting to note that Velo3D’s Chairman of the Board is Carl Bass, former CEO of Autodesk, so don’t expect just status quo for this company in the increasingly competitive metal AM market.


Speaking of IMTS . . .  Next month at IMTS we will be conducting video interviews at our booth (#237089). If you are interested in recording a video interview, please call me at 719-221-1867 or check our schedule and sign up at the following link:

We’ll be there the entire week, so stop by and say hello, as well as enter our drawing to win a Kindle Fire.

Hope to see you in Chicago!

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