Metal AM Spring 2021

Page 147

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Equispheres: The need for speed

The need for speed, and how the right powder can reduce AM part production costs by 50% If metal Additive Manufacturing is to compete with casting and other mass-production technologies, costs need to be reduced by a factor of ten. Optimising metal powder characteristics can get the industry halfway there, while anticipated improvements in equipment and processes will do the rest. Here, Equispheres’ Doug Brouse and Dr Martin Conlon discuss how the use of advanced aluminium powders can improve the build rate for Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) by two to four times, as well as offering significant advantages for Binder Jetting (BJT) production.

Metal Additive Manufacturing, although relatively new among manufacturing technologies, has been around for decades. The first commercial metal AM machines arrived on the market in the 1990s. When GE entered the market in 2016 with the acquisition of Concept Laser, and later Arcam, there was an expectation that the technology would experience rapid adoption and usher in a period of robust competition, price reductions and a supplier ecosystem of third-party services and products. It has been roughly five years since then and there are now a considerable number of players in the market offering AM machines, feedstock, part manufacturing services, post-processing equipment, and software solutions, for an array of production technologies. Although this active ecosystem of suppliers has developed as expected, metal AM technology is yet to be widely accepted as productionready. The advantages metal AM offers manufacturers – design

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freedom, weight savings, assembly simplification, and economic batch size reduction – have been demonstrated in some cases, but not fully realised. Except for a handful of examples where geometries are complex, asset values high, and volumes low, the technology is not commonly used for production. Instead, it is

used to conduct R&D activities and to produce prototypes and tooling. Currently, compared with the $170 billion-per-year casting industry, metal AM generates less than $2 billion. If we assume the technology adoption cycle for metal AM is a leisurely twenty years, the industry should be generating closer to $14 billion in revenue.

Current PBF-LB part production cost breakdown Current part production cost breakdown


Labour Powder

AM machine and process

Fig. 1 Relative contribution of business inputs to part cost for PBF-LB

Metal Additive Manufacturing | Spring 2021