The industrial 3D printing technology direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is a powder bed fusion process that could potentially change the way parts are manufactured. The process can be used to help engineers and product designers reduce assemblies with multiple parts into single components, and it works well when printing many objects with similar geometries, like implants and dental crowns. DMLS is a good method for applications in the aerospace and medical fields, and has been used to print everything from bike parts to hydraulic components.

However, it’s not foolproof – supports have to be designed and later removed, due to the thermal stresses the part is under during the process, and it can be tough the first couple of times to get a totally new geometry to print properly. Additionally, part costs can be higher, and build volumes are limited when comparing DMLS with DED technology.

That’s why Indiana-based Atlas 3D worked with the technology group at ITAMCO (Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Company) to develop and commercialize Sunata software, which is designed to take all of the trial and error out of metal additive manufacturing, particularly when it comes to DMLS 3D printers. Sunata automatically selects the optimal orientation for a part, and generates support structures as well, getting rid of the long and expensive simulation process.

The secure, cloud-based software software helps 3D metal printing designs quickly and accurately evolve into successful builds, thanks to its patent-pending Thermal Circuit Network (TCN), which breaks the print design into layers that are thermally similar, before then dividing these layers into thermally similar segments.

[Image: Atlas 3D]

Then, the TCN uses its thermal modeling algorithm to ensure the optimal orientation and support structure for a given design. While other orientation and simulation programs make users input their own estimates for the best supports and orientation, Atlas 3D’s TCN figures these out ahead of time, so users can have a successful 3D build each time.

The joint ITAMCO and Atlas 3D team recognized the unfilled need of balancing reduced print times with minimal distortion, and wanted to profitably 3D print viable components, instead of only prototypes. So they developed Sunata, which allows users to scale their requirements from less distortion and longer print times to tolerable distortion and reduced print times.

Simply download the .STL file for your design right into the program to automatically receive the best orientation and support structures.

The software also helps users print their designs profitably, as it can provide the total print time and amount of sintered material a certain design will require – this results in an accurate cost-to-print data.

[Image: Atlas 3D]

Sunata software streamlines the DMLS process, and can be used with many different metal feedstocks. Now, it’s the first AM software platform to test out the newest metal powder, high-strength Ferrium C64 (AMS 6509), from Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) company QuesTek Innovations.

“ITAMCO is a long-time manufacturer of high-quality gears and is an early adopter of Ferrium C64 steel powder for Additive Manufacturing applications,” said Jeff Grabowski, QuesTek’s Manager of Business Development. “Atlas 3D’s incorporation of Ferrium C64 steel into the Sunata system will enable others interested in C64 to more efficiently begin building components with this high-performance steel.”

The material can achieve a surface hardness of 62-64 Rockwell C (HRC) through vacuum carburization, and is high temperature- and fracture-resistant. Ferrium C64 steel powder could potentially be used to make more lightweight, reliable, and temperature-resistant transmission gearboxes for industrial companies like Sikorsky and Bell Helicopter, both of which are evaluating the material as a replacement for Alloy X53 (AMS 6308) under an Army-funded Future Advanced Rotorcraft Drive System (FARDS) program.

ITAMCO, which already uses Sunata software and the EOS M 290 3D printer to manufacture components and open gearing for many heavy-duty industries, is also interested in the steel powder, which can help lower maintenance costs for industrial products like racing transmission gears that value compactness, durability, and high-surface fatigue resistance.

[Image: QuesTek Innovations]

“As metal additive printing continues to grow, so too does the need to add new printable powders. The thermal characteristics of these new powders; however, present their own unique set of challenges. ITAMCO is one of many Atlas 3D customers to benefit from our forward-looking move to add this exciting new material to the list of available metals in Sunata,” said Chad Barden, CEO of Atlas 3D. “As with all of the other materials, our customers can successfully print their designs with the touch of a button…every time. Without question, Sunata bring certainty to the arduous, trial-and-error process associated with the introduction of a new powder.”

Under an Army-funded SBIR Phase I program, QuesTek is also evaluating and demonstrating Ferrium C64 for possible use in 3D printing aerospace gears and fatigue-driven applications.

To learn about how ITAMCO is working with America Makes to help the next generation of engineers develop skills like inspection, additive manufacturing, and 3D software like Sunata, watch the video below.

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