Velo3D releases Sapphire, the first support-free metal PBF 3D printer
End-to-end metal AM solution innovates part design for large batch production
After raising over $92 million in funding, Velo3D today finally emerged from over 4 years of stealth mode operation by releasing its first end-to-end metal additive manufacturing solution comprised. The full package delivers on Velo3D’s announced goal of truly disrupting metal AM in terms of cost and productivity. It comprises the Velo3D Sapphire 3D printer, the Flow print preparation software, and what the company refers to as Intelligent Fusion technology. 3dpbm expects the Velo3D Sapphire system to have a price tag of just over $600,000.
Together, the integrated solution solves some of the most difficult AM challenges including product design limitations, part-to-part consistency, process control and cost-effective manufacturing. The way it does this is by introducing an advanced software and hardware combination that enables virtually support-free metal powder bed fusion part production.
Instead of focusing on complex mechanical or chemical post-processing to remove supports, Velo3D’s smart additive manufacturing process uses advanced, software-based simulation and process monitoring solutions, along with a unique recoating system that does not require a fully flat surface (it can intelligently avoid printed parts to deposit metal powders around them). The ability to do away with support for overhangs of less than 5° opens up a large number of opportunities, drastically reducing the time (and thus the cost per part), by between 30% and 70%.
“We are looking at true next-gen additive manufacturing, Stefan Zschiegner, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Velo3D, exclusively told us. “I think additive manufacturing is just at the beginning of its evolutionary cycle and it is going to change the manufacturing world forever and we expect to be at the forefront of this new era. Our system is available now and we have already begun working with our first customers, who are leading AM experts with several years of experience with multiple systems. They are now able to use Velo3D systems to produce parts that were previously impossible and their customers are Fortune 500 companies. We are now announcing general availability with a 12-week lead time.”
The Velo3D Sapphire 3D Printer is ready
By requiring from 3 to 5 times less support, even for highly complex geometries, the Velo3D system is ready to compete with upcoming production systems such as those presented or announced by Desktop Metal, HP, GE and Stratasys, while offering the added advantage of not requiring any furnace sintering. The parts come out of the powder bed almost completely finished. This also enables augmented automation capabilities, with a sealed build chamber operating, in-situ metrology and closed loop meltpool control. The result is that finished parts can just be dug out of the powder bed with impressive ease.
Perhaps even more interestingly, Velo3D is not coming out of stealth mode to introduce an alpha or early beta version of its machine: it is releasing it for global commercial availability. Velo3D’s beta partners have had the systems in-house for some time now and they have already been using them to provide parts for their customers in segments such as aerospace, defense, energy and medical applications.
“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 that was among the first adopters of the Velo3D system. “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 deliver on the promises of the potential of metal additive manufacturing.”
Shine on Sapphire System
The Sapphire system is a laser powder bed metal additive 3D printing system designed for high volume manufacturing. It is capable of building complex geometries including designs with overhangs that are less than five degrees and large inner diameters without supports – something previously unheard of in the AM industry. To deliver superior part-to-part consistency, Sapphire’s integrated in-situ process metrology enables first-of-its-kind closed loop melt pool control. To maximize productivity it contains a module that enables automated change-over with offline unpacking.
Currently supported materials focus include primarily on titanium and Inconel (a nickel-based superalloy) which are among the most widely used by current AM adopters in the aerospace and medical segments. These are processes through two 1Kw lasers while an inert atmosphere is obtained through the use of Argon gas just like in all other laser PBF systems.
Key to the system’s productivity rates is the 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 five 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 reduces the laborious post-processing necessary with conventional approaches.
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.
“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.”
Good things to come
Over the past four years, Velo3D invested in technology development and now have as many as 100 engineers and close to 100 patents in AM. “We have a strong background in semiconductors and work closely with our customers who are leading OEM’s to get the product right, Stefan Zschiegner told us. “We have a large processing development capacity. We developed the whole process and we don’t just provide the system and the software. We completely thermally model and simulate the entire melt-pool during the print. We use these learnings to predict and counteract any kind of stresses that would result. Our real-time control system is a function of the specific geometry we are working on.”
Velo3D is targeting production for aerospace, energy for turbomachinery parts such as pumps housings impellers, fuel nozzles. In medical we are able to provide implants for hips as well as spinal supports. Parts come out of the machine 99.99% dense and ready for use.
“We are based on powder bed fusion but we take it to another level – Mr. Zschiegner continued. We have created 50 parts that were previously perceived to not be possible and we can overcome the limitations of standard metal PBF by doing away with a lot of post-processing. These parts [in the images below] have intricate internal patterns and are produced without any supports beyond the first layer.”
As shown in the video below, Velo3D’s Sapphire system can produce parts such as hip cups upside down with no supports, They are effectively floating in the powder bed and can be removed effortlessly. Perhaps even more importantly they can be stacked so we can entirely fill the build volume with multiple parts. This means that in the same build volume, instead of just 50 parts of the size of the hip cups, it is possible to place as many as 429. That’s almost 10X productivity. Combined with almost no post-processing required, that reads mass production.