After much suspense, Wayland Additive has launched its Calibur3 electron beam laser powder bed fusion (E-PBF) system. The company’s NeuBeam 3D printing process represents an emerging sea change in E-PBF technology, as E-PBF was previously limited to just one company on the market, Arcam (now a part of GE Additive). Soon, we may see a new generation of E-PBF systems that overcome some of the limitations of traditional electron beam melting.
From its headquarters in Huddersfield, U.K., Wayland unveiled its first commercial system, Calibur3, with a build volume 300 x 300 x 450 mm (hence the “three” in the machine’s name). The printer naturally features Wayland’s NeuBeam process, which offers potentially significant advancements over existing E-PBF technology. This includes the neutralization of charge accumulation that occurs in other E-PBF systems, resulting in a greater stability and flexibility than even found in laser PBF. In turn, the Caliber3 can 3D print with a wider range of materials.
With NeuBeam, the energy source is directed only at the part being printed and not the entire bed. Rather than creating an entire “sinter cake”, as occurs with other E-PBF processes, this technology allows for the free flowing of powder when the print is complete. This makes it possible to produce larger parts than possible with other forms of E-PBF. Wayland also highlighted the incorporation of real-time in-process monitoring control in the Calibur3, a feature that is only present in a minimal number of PBF systems.
CTO Ian Laidler explained in the virtual unveiling how neutralizing charge accumulation eliminates the need for expensive gases and reduces environmental contamination. Moreover, there are no mirrors or mechanical deflection systems, further reducing the variables that must be accounted for, such as the inertia of the optical system. With no touch points between the electrons and the powder bed, the process is more tightly controlled, necessary for proper quality assurance. This quick deflection system also opens up new scan patterns with the electron beam, according to Laidler.
“The other advantage about the fast deflection system is that we can manipulate the shape of the beam very rapidly, as rapidly as we can deflect it,” Laidler said. “As most people know with any optical system, as you deflect off-axis, you’ll wind up with optical distortions and the same is true for an electro-optical system, but as we deflect off-axis and we get these distortions, we can correct for these distortions equally through electromagnetic fields. This means that as we deflect, we can correct for astigmatism. We can adjust and correct for the shape of the beam as it lands on the powder bed as a consequence of the angle. We can also correct if the focus changes as we move off axis, and we can do this in real time and very fast. The ability of the speed therefore gives us enhanced scan strategies. We can do things that cannot be achieved with laser systems because of our speed. The speed of the deflection system opens up a range of scan strategies, not possible with slower laser mirror manipulation systems and allows higher melt powers to be used…”
The ability to run at higher powers, printing above the annealing temperatures of the metal but below the sintering point of the power, means that the parts are stress free. Therefore, they don’t have to be anchored to the build plate, requiring removal with wire cutting and then post-print annealing. A reduction in post-processing naturally leads to lower costs and greater productivity.
Will Richardson, CEO of Wayland Additive, said of the launch:
“It was a privilege for me to explain the genesis of our work at Wayland Additive and the ‘why’ behind the NeuBeam process and Calibur3. I think the headlines speak for themselves, and all the hard work by the Wayland team that has gone into the development of the process and this new hardware platform has been realised today. I am so proud of our team and their dedication to the launch initiative. Now it is our mission to really demonstrate the difference that Calibur3 can make for metal AM applications.”
If the company really is delivering on the ability to 3D print large parts without residual stress, gas cross flow, or the need to pre-sinter the powder bed, then it may be leaps and bounds ahead of other PBF technologies, electron beam or otherwise. Residual stress is one of the key issues in PBF metal 3D printing and the primary methods for circumventing this issue rely on simulation and pre-deformation of parts, in order to compensate for any stresses, as well as in-process quality control and very tight control over the print environment. Most of what I’ve just described is more or less only available altogether with VELO3D’s laser PBF process.
In the past, laser PBF has taken a precedence over E-PBF due to government and corporate interest in the former over the latter. In turn, E-PBF has fallen behind developmentally, resulting in one primary supplier of E-PBF systems. Those machines, in turn, were limited to aerospace and orthopaedic uses, specifically for very specific, smaller-to-medium-sized parts. However, there may be a shift occurring in this segment. While Wayland may be the most technically advanced, from what we can tell so far, FreeMelt is another firm trying to shake things up with an open source E-PBF machine. Open source technology leads to numerous advances across the board, so we may see even more entrants into this segment.
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