Lead the large structure metal 3D printing

2018-10-15 04:05:00 admin

As a cutting-edge intelligent manufacturing technology, 3D printing has grown from just existing in the laboratory to one of the mainstream applications of new and old kinetic energy conversion. Start-ups are springing up like mushrooms, but prosperity can hardly conceal the dilemma of industrial development, and the road to technological innovation and upgrading is still long.

Among the players, Qingdao JointX Intelligent Manufacturing Ltd., which is located in Qingdao Hongdao Economic Zone (Hi-tech Zone), puts the energy on a hard bone - the metal 3D printing of a large and complex structure. Dr. Hongbo Suo, the CTO, believes the development of 3D printing conveys the generality of the new industry. Although the road is tortuous, the whole industry will release more energy with the great opportunity brought by the transformation of new and old kinetic energy.

Precision farming: metal 3D printing for large and complex structures

Deep into the night, lights in the workshop of JointX have not yet been extinguished. Dr. Suo and several young people from the project R & D group seem to have forgotten the time. They looked at the titanium alloy sample just printed out beside a high machine tool.
"The product form in this area is slightly different from other places. What is the reason for it?" "Now the technology is basically mature. If we want to make a larger product, how can we improve our technology?" They chatted, discussed.

Although it has been only two years since JointX was established, it seems that "Play around in the lab whenever free" has become an enterprise culture. It is this kind of inexhaustible and refined spirit that lets Dr. Suo confidently tell the reporter that in the subdivision of WAAM (Wire and Arc Additive Manufacturing) with titanium alloy, JointX is in the forefront of the world's peers.

Dr. Suo told the reporter that 3D printing as a subversive manufacturing technology has long been imperceptible, infiltrating into every corner of life, from simple living supplies to precise human implants, 3D printing is becoming more and more impossible into a reality. However, from emerging technologies to being applied everywhere, there are also worries behind the prosperity of the industry.

"Lack of technological innovation, less advanced technological level and homogenization competition make large scale 3D printing still a hard nut to crack." Dr. Suo indicates that this pain point let jointX see the opportunity, "We are aiming to be a professional 3D printing technical solution provider for large and complex metal structures."

Promotion: "Arc +3D printing" is more suitable for industrial applications

Why do we abandon the small and fine 3D products for civilian applications, but specialize in heavy metal 3D printing?
Upon reporter’s questions, he smiled and told his story. Dr. Hongbo Suo, who worked in an Aeronautical Manufacturing Research Institute, has been in charge of the research project of additive manufacturing technology of heavy metal structures, and was the team leader. The so-called additive manufacturing is compared with the traditional cutting and deformation, casting technology. 3D printing is actually just a popular name of additive manufacturing. "For aircraft titanium alloy structure, using traditional cutting technology, only 3% to 5% of the entire material could be really utilized, which means not only high cost, but also for some complex space structure it is impossible to finish in one step. However, 3D printing could save lots of material, time and cost, more suitable for large complex metal structure manufacturing." After more than ten years of research and study, Dr. Suo made up his mind with a clear goal.

At present, additive manufacturing technology of large metal structure at home and abroad can be divided into 3 types: laser, electron beam and arc, according to the heat source. In the beginning, laser and electron beam were more popular, that’s why Dr. Suo had focused on these fields as well. His team also realized the first installation of titanium alloy part onto an aircraft, which was additive manufactured by electron beam. But he soon discovered that, from the viewpoint of industrial applications, it is still necessary to combine arc with additive manufacturing technology, to truly promote the manufacturing of large and complex metal structure from laboratory and realize industrialization.

"In the past, we have also carried out metal additive manufacturing with other heat sources, but gradually realized that, from an economic point of view, WAAM is more suitable." Dr. Suo indicates that compared with the same specifications of laser and electron beam equipment, WAAM machine can save up to half of the price, while manufacturing speed is quite impressive. " WAAM is low cost, fast speed, high precision, easy to reach standardized production. Among the several additive manufacturing technologies for large structures, WAAM owns the greatest potential." Dr. Suo told the reporter. 

Prospect: full intelligence in 3D printing process

For the moment JointX is undertaking a project to construct a large titanium alloy casing structure for an aircraft engine, and has developed several large and medium sized equipment. Besides, JointX can also provide customized supply of raw materials and precision machining services.
"We can now provide raw materials, WAAM services, research and development of equipment, and customized processing. In spite of the fact that we are a small company, we have definitely mastered resources of the entire industrial chains." Dr. Suo told the reporter.

Can the equipment be open to public? Facing the doubts, Dr. Suo smiled back, "Our equipment has been made public at all kinds of exhibitions, since our core knowhow is processing technology, control and software, even if other companies have the same configuration as ours, it might be hard for them to reach the same production capability. We have been constantly improving our research and development levels. When they are able to make products of the same quality, we have taken a step further, so we are not afraid of any competition - we must make sure we are running fast enough.

Although fair technical results were reached, Dr. Suo still has infinite possibilities  for metal 3D printing: fully intelligent machine tool, automatic computer analysis following three-dimensional model input, processing online measurement, feedback, compensation, final parts are smooth and beautiful... Although nobody could do it so perfectly for the time being, the future will be far beyond our imagination. "It is going to take quite a while, but as long as we have goals and beliefs, we will make it, for sure." Said Dr. Suo.

(This article is quoted from the Qingdao Daily)

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