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Laser Wars: SLM Solutions Announces Order for Massive NXG XII 600E Metal 3D Printer

Electronics
AMR Military

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SLM Solutions (AM3D.DE) previously announced that it would collaborate with military research organization Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) to build a large metal printer for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The resulting machine, the NXG XII 600E, builds on its predecessor, the NXG XII 600, with an extended1.5m tall build envelope, while maintaining the 600mm by 600mm width and depth of the preceding system. Now, CTC has ordered the first machine, meaning that the SLM Solutions printer will be shipped to a customer somewhere in 2023. SLM has also announced that its existing NXG XII 600 printers can be upgraded to the 600E model.

“We are pleased to continue our long-term partnership with SLM. SLM is clearly a leader in the additive manufacturing equipment arena, and we look forward to collaborating and expanding the possibilities of additive manufacturing for defense applications in this exciting opportunity in support of critical AFRL mission requirements,” stated Edward J. Sheehan, Jr., CTC President and CEO.

“These are the partnerships that are a testament to SLM Solutions’ ethos; it is only in close collaboration with them that we can push the limits of innovation. To take a market leader like that of the NXG XII 600 as a blueprint, extend the envelope to 1.5m, coupled with the precision and reliability of our systems, and our hands-on support allow our customer to develop with agility–almost at the Mach-speed that we are designing this system to build parts for. We are especially pleased to be teamed with CTC, a highly regarded premier research and development organization with an outstanding record of securing technology transition successes,” contributed Sam O’Leary, SLM Solutions CEO.

NXG XII 600E Details

The SLM machine features 12 1kW lasers with a stated build rate of 1000cm/hr. As a result, the firm suggests that it is “20x faster than a single-laser system and 5x faster than a quad-laser system.” The machine cools builds externally, with SLM claiming to have worked on minimizing turnaround times with optimized unpacking, cooling, and maintenance. The company is also allowing customers to optimize parameters through relatively open settings. Through its Free Float settings, the NXG XII 600E is said to reduce the need for supports and post-processing.

The company says that the development of the machine was customer demand for larger parters made from high-temperature materials able to live up to the performance requirements of the military, space, and aerospace sectors. This fits with the AFRL’s intentions for the equipment, which are said to be hypersonics, missiles, and other large component applications. These large systems are also sure to go to New Space firms that use them for combustion chambers and the like.

The Laser Wars

Recently, EPlus3D announced a large multi-laser powder bed fusion (PBF) 3D printer with a 1258 x 1258 x 1350 mm build volume. The firm said that it had gotten three orders for it already. The E Plus system may be bigger than the latest edition from SLM, but it is difficult to compare how both companies define their build volumes. The E Plus system is also a quarter of the speed. 3D Systems should still be working on a nine-laser machine, while Velo3D and others are also expanding the build volumes and lasers of their PBF printers.

The Laser Wars do not seem to be cooling down. Surprisingly, SLM has taken an early march on EOS, in particular, with the NXG XII line. It has found customers in automotive and aerospace. A lot of excitement, however, stems from the very large parts made for propulsion components in space applications. New space firms have gotten tens of billions in funding and they’re all using 3D printing to accelerate development, produce parts with less mass, and iterate designs more quickly and cheaply. Unique part properties, functional integration, and reduction in part counts are making additive manufacturing a very attractive option. At the same time, national governments are keen not to fall behind in space, satellites, and hypersonics. In this sense, the large 3D printing trend will be doubly stimulated from governments and commercial firms.

I’m still skeptical about long term productivity with these machines. Maintaining them, optimizing them, avoiding soot, and reducing mistakes will seem to be a formidable challenge. Imagine a mistake in a 200-hour build. That would be very expensive and disruptive to a production schedule.

Theoretically, large multi-laser 3D printers should also be very productive for much smaller parts. They could potentially reduce part costs as well. But, will manufacturers for smaller parts opt for these large systems? If it goes right, then the rewards will be considerable. However, the investment is large as well. It is more likely that these systems would be used more intensively by those requiring especially large parts, at least initially. This is the future though and it is happening right now. The fact that firms and governments wish to stimulate these large printers and that both are lining up with cash to spend on them is a great sign for us all.

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