An update from AMUG Conference (Additive Manufacturing Users Group)
Date: April 3-7, 2022
Interview by Tonya Wolfe
Cassidy Silbernagel, Senior Additive Manufacturing Mechanical Engineer, from Exergy Solutions Inc. recently attended the AMUG Conference and AAMN met up with him to get the latest info on all things additive.
Why attend AMUG?
Exergy is establishing its presence in the additive manufacturing space and AMUG is known as an important conference for networking and getting recognized in the additive space. All people who use additive belong to AMUG.
What is AMUG?
The slogan at AMUG is “For Users By Users” so it is really focused on helping each other out by being able to network beyond the sales pitch. This conference allows attendees to get to know people, their successes and their struggles, and where you can learn something to help yourself or help others. It really is all about the people. In this aspect, there are opportunities to learn tips and tricks that you wouldn’t get access to in other scenarios. For example, you’ll learn things that are never posted on the internet and are never mentioned in the product reviews or specs sheets or the sales pitches. You get to find out the nitty gritty of any aspect of additive that you want, ranging from polymers to metals, to scanning, to medical, to aerospace, to defense - you name it, it’s there.
Did you go to the conference part or just the exhibition?
The exhibition is usually held in the evenings and the first two nights are focused on networking events. This is a real focal point of the beginning of the conference, and then it transitions during the days to breakout workshops, discussions, and panels. At the end of the conference, there is an opportunity to try some hands-on learning, such as silicone molding or casting or metal support removal, or scanning. I got to do some casting with 3D printed molds and brought home a little cast metal coin of AMUG.
What new technology caught your attention?
I think one of the best parts about AMUG is that they have a competition, with two categories: finishing and technical. These are people who have been in this industry for 15 years or who dedicate their lives to AM, who are displaying the best of what they’ve culminated their careers around. The finishing pieces are just absolute works of art. You would never know that any part of it was 3d printed. The technical competition can vary within a wide range of different areas and applications. Last year’s winner was the BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) Dam (a small scale hydroelectric dam for micro power generation). BAAM is a type of FDM process that enables large parts to be made, similar to the process on the desktop machines. With this process, a series of funnels and the gates were created to retrofit an existing dam to enable small microgeneration on rivers. These were integrated into old water powered mills across the US for local electricity generation.
This year the technical winner was a new type of AM process based on friction welding from MELD Manufacturing (http://meldmanufacturing.com/). Friction welding is typically done by spinning two pieces of metal together until you’re creating so much friction that they melt and fuse. But with this technology, a piece of bar stock was attached in a gantry that was spinning at a certain RPM. Even though its rotating, it appeared almost like an FDM process in that it looked like it was extruding material by depositing this paste-like cement, or slurry, but it’s actually solid metal. This is being used in defense applications where they need to build up large, metal parts without all the distortion that typically comes from DED processes. It was just impressive being able to see a brand-new additive method on display.
What advancements are being made in terms of powder bed technology that you noticed?
So typically, in laser powder bed fusion you need metal support structures that tie your part down to the base plate anytime there’s an overhang greater than 45 degrees. A lot of work goes into process monitoring and in process adjustments to get rid of more supports. AddUp, from France, has a laser powder bed fusion process that allows them to build overhangs of only 10 degrees. Their process also uses a really fine powder distribution; with particles between five and fifteen microns in diameter. Typically, the powder distribution is between 30 and 60-microns. This smaller size enables them to get an extremely fine surface finish. Michelin uses this technology to produce tire molds in production.
Did you see any new material developments in the metal space to increase the number of alloy systems that were available?
There are always new alloys being developed. Of note was from a company called 6K Additive who upcycle metal scrap into powders that can be used in additive manufacturing. It’s a way to lessen the environmental impact of additive because powders are a very energy intensive way to create a material. In terms of other materials, I saw things like Tungsten and molybdenum– materials which are difficult to process but are now being offered in powder form for additive. A lot of it is being used in defense applications, nuclear applications, or in other specialty industries.
You talked about defense, nuclear specialty applications. How do we relate this back to Alberta? How do we start fitting this into the Alberta economy? And where do you see a place for some of the new things that you saw or what are we missing out on?
A lot of the conference focuses on healthcare, aerospace, and transportation, but here in Alberta we’re very energy focused and there are a lot more applications coming out in the energy sectors. The Alberta sectors are still in a testing and validation stage when it comes to additive manufacturing: for example, making sensor covers that used to be machined or cast. As the technology gets more exposed, it will get put in more critical areas. For the energy industry, what we saw is a lot of alloy development in areas that are of interest to the oil patch. So high nickel content super alloys, specialty stainless steels, etc. I also met a company that provides different types of 3D printing polymers which are being used downhole for specialty gaskets.
The advancements in polymer engineering have resulted in materials that can be much more reliable or better suited than traditional metals. What’s new in the polymer materials that you saw?
Over half the conference is dedicated to polymers. In terms of polymers, people are going to actual engineered plastics like PEEK and PEKK. In addition, printing in different methods, not just FDM, but in laser powder bed fusion. But with polymers they’re really moving towards different filled polymers to get enhanced properties, such as carbon fiber filled, Kevlar filled, and metal filled filaments. Beyond just polymers and metals I saw a lot more ceramics as well. Ceramics are becoming a much bigger area of focus for additive because they have opened a whole new set materials that can exploit the freedom of geometry that additive provides.
What advancements did you see in large scale metal additive?
One of the big things I’ve seen is that directed energy deposition is being adopted much more widely. It seems that more and more companies are developing DED processes in their machines. I went on a tour of DMG Mori where they showcased their powder laser system with an integrated CNC machine. After several layers of deposition, the build is machined. This is critical for those areas which will be inaccessible after the printing continues. They also showcased a DED turning machine to create these amazingly intricate parts and pieces that you’d normally think of as lathe work, but they’re doing it in a DED process.
We’re seeing DED being adopted in other areas. There are companies who are developing the heads for these DED processes that can be mounted on your own machinery or on robots that can be used to build whatever shapes and sizes you want.
Do you think Alberta is ready for that?
I think there is an opportunity to look at how we’re manufacturing and where we can use additive. As people start using the technology and gain more experience with it and more familiarity and comfort with it, they can then start to push it into further applications. One of the big companies there that is a relatively new startup is called VELO3D and they’ve developed a laser powder bed fusion machine for metals that can print without any supports or very little supports, and their build envelope for one of their machines is just over 12 inches (315mm) in diameter and a meter tall. They developed that specifically for some of their partners in Texas for downhole applications. We are seeing these companies provide machines for very specific applications.
What’s the new thing that you saw that came out in terms of software because you can’t decouple these machines without having a full suite of software?
There are always new startups coming out with new things. The newest one out there is Carbon 3D who have developed a lattice generation software that allows you to morph between different types of lattices and conform it within the space that you’re looking to put it in. Bauer is using a similar piece of software called nTopology to create custom hockey helmet inserts for mass production, which is also being used by actual NHL players. The helmets are created from a 3D scan based on the player’s head which ensures maximum comfort andheat dissipation, but also provides maximum protection. That software allows for a nearly fully automated process from scan to print.
Was there a new theme this year?
One thing to note was the focus on sustainability. I didn’t realize just how big of a focus it was in additive manufacturing decision making. It was mentioned so many times you’d have to be trying to ignore it to not hear it. There was a real focus on reducing the energy footprint of additive along with its environmental impact. Although the benefits of AM have been known for years, there was a fresh look at the entire life cycle of the product, recycling, and reducing the amount of raw materials that go into the process. Another interesting concept was using sustainability as a design feature. One of the companies that presented has an entire division dedicated to researching sustainability in AM. They put on a workshop, and they had six of their employees walking everyone through these hands-on examples of how we determine what sustainability is and how do we judge a part with sustainability. For example, a lighter part takes less resources to ship especially if its printed near where it will be used. Printing on demand lowers scrap due to not getting rid of unused obsolete parts. Having a digital warehouse rather than a physical one saves on that warehouses carbon footprint. And consolidating parts and making small improvements to the performance of that part can further reduce overall GHG emissions.
Is there anything that you saw there that just knocked your socks off?
I think it was really looking at where the industry is going, and it looks like it’s really pushing towards production. Trying to get a reliable process and bring the cost of each part down which will make this technology competitive, if not more competitive than traditional manufacturing methods. There’s a lot going into serial production of AM parts - not just for prototyping, but for end-use parts.
Siemens is using AM in their serial production of turbines and have been working over the last year to qualify the whole process. By 2030, their goal is to run all their turbines on hydrogen, and the only way that will be possible is through additive manufacturing. Right now, 6% of the parts going into their turbines are additively manufactured. They are planning to scale that up to about 20%, which is 150 to 200 parts in serial production. It is clear that AM is not just for prototyping anymore, it’s for actual end-use parts.
AM has had a slow uptake in Alberta. When should Alberta companies get in the additive business?
I think it is one of those things where if you’re always just looking at it from the outside, you’re never going to be ready to adopt it. You have to start somewhere to get that experience and familiarity. But if you’re just sitting back watching it happen, you’re never going to be a part of it. It requires that first step to investigate it, use it in a non-critical application, understand what its limitations are, but also what it enables beyond traditional machining. Benefits can be reduced lead times, less material, or creating a digital inventory. There are many different areas where additive has an advantage, even if you’re not going to redesign your parts. Getting that initial experience helps so that when you’ve found that perfect candidate for additive, you’re ready to go into serial production because you’ve already gone on this journey and you’re ready to basically jump right in.
Exergy has a new machine coming. Was there anything that you learned there that will help you commission and get that piece of equipment going faster, as you are an earlier adopter for that technology?
Not specifically for that, but what I did find is several future applications for that machine. There are a lot of materials that lasers can’t process very well either due to oxygen pickup, reflectivity, micro-cracking, or the temperature required for processing it. What electron beam technology enables is it occurs in a vacuum, so you don’t have any oxygen pickup. It can process at very high temperatures, it can preheat the part and the materials, and you don’t have any sort of cracking in the process. There are a lot of exciting materials that we can use in this machine for many, many applications that can be used here in Alberta and around the world such as high wear resistant carbides or highly conductive pure copper.
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