Australian company Titomic has unveiled what it claims is the world's largest metal 3D printer at its fully automated Melbourne facility. Utilizing a patented process co-developed with Australian federal scientific research agency the CSIRO, the 3D metal printer boasts a build area 9 m long, 3 m wide and 1.5 m high (29.5 x 9.8 x 4.9 ft), however the printing process isn't constrained to this booth size, meaning it could be used to print even larger objects.
The unit prints layer by layer like existing 3D printers, but rather than relying on metal powders that are fused using extreme heat, the Titomic Kinetic Fusion process involves a robot arm spraying titanium powder particles onto a scaffold at supersonic speeds of around 1 km per second – so fast that when they collide they mechanically fuse solid.
The machine doesn't require gas shielding and results in a reduction in material waste compared to traditional manufacturing techniques. And because it uses kinetic energy rather than thermal energy, there is also no risk of heat deformation to the pieces it produces. It's basically the same as cold-spray techniques used to coat existing metal components to protect them from corrosion that have been widely used for years.
The company is already using the technology to produce seamless titanium bicycle frames on a smaller machine at the rate of one every 30 minutes. Its bigger brother, which has an overall footprint of 40 x 20 m (131 x 66 ft) and can deposit 45 kg (99 lb) of material per hour, is much faster than other, smaller metal 3D printers that generally have build speeds of around 1 kg (2.2 lb) per 24 hours, according to Titomic CEO Jeff Lang.
And despite using powdered titanium, Lang says the printer can produce parts "very close" in strength to titanium parts made using conventional techniques. Additionally, the printer will enable multi-part components to be made as single parts that are lighter and stronger because they won't require cutting, bending, joining and welding, allowing production to be fully automated. The machine is also able to fuse metals other than titanium, but has focused on that material due to its strength, lightness and relative low cost.
Titomic is initially targeting the aerospace, military, marine and sporting goods (primarily bicycles) industries, with a future eye on automotive, medical equipment, building and construction, and mining applications. For military applications, the company's Melbourne facility will include an International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) compliance area to meet US national security requirements.
The company has already attracted attention from some heavy hitters, announcing partnerships with golf club manufacturer Callaway and ship building company Fincantieri Australia.
"We're at the birthing of a whole new industry for metal manufacturing," Lang told SBS News. "Now that we can truly do things at industrial scale, not just industrial scale, we can do basically larger, faster, and smarter as well."
The Titomic Kinetic Fusion process is demonstrated in the video below.
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