US company Sciaky has long had a role out of the limelight but close to the US defense community. The company’s Electron Beam Welding and Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing technologies have been used for satellites, in the Space Shuttle and on other NASA missions, as well as used by Lockheed Martin to make aerospace parts and to repair turbine blades for battle tanks. Now a Sciaky customer is using EBAM to make tanks of a different kind: fuel tanks for submarines.
Electron Beam Welding is a metal 3D printing technology whereby a welding machine is put on a motion stage and 3D prints a part. The technology can 3D print on top of existing materials, essentially rejuvenating or repairing worn down parts. It can also be used to make some of the largest 3D printed metal parts in the world. EBAM (and similar technologies such as DED) can make parts that are 5 meters in length, for example. These technologies have been used for rocket engines, wing spars of aircraft, and other structural components for aerospace and other vehicles. EBAM and similar technologies have been mainly used by the defense establishment. Satellites, rocket programs and military procurement and investment programs are often couched in secrecy. Due to this, Sciaky was not widely publicized while it was regularly selling its large format metal 3D printers for lots of interesting applications.
Below you can see a movie of how the Sciaky EBAM process works.
International Submarine Engineering
International Submarine Engineering turned to Sciaky to manufacture a titanium Variable Ballast tank. According to Sciaky, compared to forging, the overall production time of the tank was reduced from 16 weeks to 8 weeks. This lead time reduction is just one of the advantages that 3D printing can provide in manufacturing end use parts. The Variable Ballast tank was for International Submarine Engineering’s Arctic Explorer Autonomous Underwater Vehicle. This autonomous vehicle is a submarine rated to dive five kilometers in depth and is destined to be delivered to the University of Tasmania in 2017 to carry out its duties exploring Antarctica.
This is a new class of vehicle that will become increasingly important in maintenance and military operations. Current types of underwater vehicles are mostly towed by surface ships. Most remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) are attached to the mother ship with umbilicals. Other submersibles and semi-submersibles are designed for relatively short missions while being supported by surface ships and crews. Essentially, the autonomous underwater vehicle paradigm up until now has the ROV acting as a temporary eye, hand or ear of the surface ship. In order to stake territorial claims, patrol for submarines and other vehicles, hunt for oil or survey, however, different kinds of underwater drones are needed. These operate nearly autonomously and can go on independent missions of days, weeks or months.
Other vehicles in the Explorer AUV class have been used to map ocean floors. The vehicles have been designed to be submerged for long periods of time and to go on extended missions. Rather than being a temporary eye or ear, the AUV can be a staybehind vehicle that can patrol or do surveillance in an area for many months. A part of the ocean floor could be mapped or traces of oil deposits could be found with no humans having to dive or watch the drone. The cost of having a dive support vessel with a crew on it at a certain location very quickly escalates. Vehicles such as the AUV class submarines can drastically reduce the cost of exploration and patrol.
In oil exploration and national defense, such vehicles will become increasingly important. For oil companies they can also reduce the risks associated with exploration in inaccessible or unsafe areas. Arctic claims can be solidified for countries using these AUV vehicles, and in portions of the world where waterways are disputed or strategic they could offer a long term deterrent or surveillance option to Navies.
Sciaky has long been a bit of an unsung hero, carrying out fundamental work in industrializing metal 3D printing. Some of the largest parts in the world are made with their EBAM process. Additionally, some of the largest-scale implementations of 3D printing are also being explored with the company’s technology. In their predominantly military world, there are relatively few opportunities for a technology vendor to attach its name to a vehicle or project. The International Submarine Engineering’s Arctic Explorer Autonomous Underwater Vehicle 3D printing case shows us a glimpse of all the real-world, end use parts being made with metal 3D printing.