VELO3D Launches New 8-Laser Sapphire XC Metal 3D Printer

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Velo3D announced today that it has launched the new Sapphire XC metal 3D printing system. The company states that it already has 13 advanced orders for the machine, touting a 75% reduction in cost per part and 500% increase in throughput when compared to the previous Sapphire. To achieve these rates, the Sapphire XC features a 600mm x 550 mm build volume and eight 1,000W lasers. General machine deliveries of new systems will start Q1 2022, as the company will be busy manufacturing and delivering systems already ordered until then.

Of the new product, Benny Buller, founder, and CEO of Velo3D, said:

“Printing larger parts without the additive manufacturing constraints of support structures is highly attractive to many industrial end-users. For the first time, customers will be able to 3D-print uncompromised geometries, with the highest confidence in part quality, in a large format system. Quality assurance with large scale components is critical because the economic impact of failed builds is very significant. We have demonstrated that our integrated solution is capable of producing a greater yield of high-quality parts, and that foundational technology will transfer to our new Sapphire XC.”

If you’d like to gain in-depth information about the new machine and the company, you can register for a fireside chat with Velo3D CEO Benny Buler and Scott Dunham, Vice President of Research at SmarTech.

As noted in previous coverage, Velo3D has developed a form of laser powder bed fusion (PBF) for 3D printing metal parts with significantly reduced need for support structures. This is achieved through a combination of simulation-based print preparation software, highly controlled print chamber atmosphere, and closed loop control.

The new Sapphire XC system, which we’ll casually refer to as the Octolaser here, will have a considerable impact on our industry. Velo3D has quickly gained pace through rapidly deploying its systems worldwide. High productivity coupled with fewer support structures has meant that, for certain families of parts, Velo3D’s technology is very attractive indeed. The company has so far had a decided space and aviation focus, with further deployments in oil and gas industries. A smart move was to make Stratasys Direct one its first customers. This allowed people to get their feet wet with the technology by letting them order new parts to test the capabilities of the Sapphire and Velo3D.

Velo3D’s premise was that, through analysis and monitoring, the firm could have far superior melt pool and process control than other systems. As a Silicon Valley startup, Velo3D thought that the best path to improving manufacturing was through better software and optimization. Their improvements have meant that their PBF process is less of a black box than some others.

This was certainly the kind of thing manufacturing firms wanted to hear. Judging by advanced orders for the new machine, it is also something that companies will put down money for. Of course, the company’s manufacturing claims will need to be independently verified. But, as they stand, the company’s progress so far is remarkable and it is set to become a major player in PBF. I’m usually very skeptical of startups in our space, but Velo3D’s relatively measured approach and good customer sentiment have me quite positive about them and their prospects.

Available materials at launch are:  F357 Aluminum, Titanium 6AI-4V, Inconel 718 and Hastelloy X. Ti64 ELI is, of course, our bread and butter, while Inconel 718 is an aerospace material especially beloved for use in gas turbine components. Hastelloy X, meanwhile, is, like Inconel 718, a nickel-based superalloy, but of a type used in processing applications for oil and gas.

In its datasheets, Velo3D discloses that the material testing results are based on Praxair powders: Praxair Tru-Form 718-35 g and Praxair TruForm HXLC. Velo3D has a “Velo3D” approved powder list of materials that it qualifies, but, in essence, you could use your own powder. From a manufacturing approach, this is a much better way to do things than to keep settings locked or to limit available suppliers. For critical applications, you’ll always need to have redundancy and Velo3D is being upfront about this. which I think will feel good if you’re a manufacturing company.

We all know that Ti64 ELI is the go-to material and the other two shore up Velo3D’s energy and aerospace focus, but what I’m really excited about is aluminum. At first glance, the F357 aluminum seems a bit of a puzzling choice. The material was developed for 3D printing through working with PWR, a power unit heat sink, radiator, intercooler company whose products are widely used in many race classes. EOS also has F357, as does GE’s AP&C unit. SLM Solutions did a project with Honeywell on F357, as well. Sintavia offers parts in the material.

The fact that it can be welded, anodized, and coated means that, in all likelihood, it plays well with other parts and could perhaps be thermal coated for space applications and further enhancements. The material would also be an interesting choice for car wheels and chassis components. But, in both commercial and military aviation as well as items such as missiles, F357 would be an ideal choice for making structural components.

Along with a new machine Velo3D has announced that its old systems can be upgraded. The previous Sapphire will be upgradable to a Sapphire Gen 2 system through hardware and software upgrades in Q2 2021. The company states that users will see a gain of “10-50% in productivity and part-cost metrics when compared to the current Sapphire system.”

Upgrading last year’s systems shows real commitment to customers and could make investing in Sapphire machines more attractive for the future. Many 3D printing businesses have talked about upgrading old machines and few really pay much attention to it. Especially for service customers, the ability to upgrade and extend the usability of the machine is a great benefit. At the same time, the company also said that the new XC has the “same optical-train design, recoater technology, gas-flow technology, and metrology as the current Sapphire. Users can also expect similar material properties as Sapphire.” This in turn will make it easier to qualify parts and materials on newer Velo3D systems.

All in all, Velo3D has once again made significant strides in its chosen field and will push the other powder bed fusion companies to do the same.

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