Velo3D unveils metal AM system following years of secrecy
Claiming high-volume production capabilities, the Sapphire system touts some interesting features that have yet to be proven.
Velo3D, a California-based additive manufacturing startup, recently announced their highly secretive project that’s been under wraps for the past four years. Dubbed the Sapphire system, the metal AM printer is designed to mass-produce components for the medical and aerospace industry, the company says.
Having raised nearly $90 million since its inception in 2014, Velo3D says its end-to-end metal solution can create complex geometric metal parts that incorporate steep overhang angles and relatively large internal cavities without the need of supports.
“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,” company founder Benny Buller said in a statement. “Today, Velo3D is working with some of the top OEMs and service bureaus creating parts that were once considered impossible.”
Velo3D claims the Sapphire’s two 1kW lasers can print at a rate of 60mm3/hr (or 30mm3/hr per laser) within its 315 x 315 x 400mm(z axis) build volume. For comparison sake, the EOS M 400-4 metal printer has a similar build volume (400mm3) and a build rate of 100mm3 per hour using four 400W lasers (or approximately 25mm3/hr per laser).
What makes the Velo3D printer a significant step forward in 3D metal printing then is its reported ability to create steep overhangs and empty internal spaces without the need for support material. According to the company, unsupported overhang angles – from 89 down to 5 degrees above horizontal – and empty internal spaces spanning up to 40mm (~1.6 inches) are possible. In contrast, DMLS systems max out at approximately 65 degrees.
How the machine pulls this trick off is yet unknown. Speculation would favor robotic reorientation of the build platform, the deposition head or both during the build process.
One clue may be what the company calls Intelligent Fusion. According to Velo3D, its machine boasts in-situ process metrology, meaning the system monitors layer deposition in real time. This, in turn, enables the Sapphire to vary laser intensity and finely control the melt pool, moment-by-moment, depending on the properties or quality of the build material at hand. The result, the company says, is a significant increase in part-to-part tolerances and consistency, since potential deformations are minimized during the build process.
This capability also reduces the amount of post-processing required. According to Velo3D, finished parts from the Sapphire system boast a surface finish (i.e. areal roughness) of less than 3µm SA (arithmetical mean height of a surface).
“Additive manufacturing has the potential to be revolutionary,” Ashley Nichols, general manager at one of Velo3D’s first customers, 3D Material Technologies (3DMT). “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.”