MiniWAAM to Boost R&D into Wire Arc Metal 3D Printing

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Wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) is a low-cost technology capable of quickly building metal components. While not accurate enough for many applications, it excels in producing large and inexpensive items that other technologies cannot. Now, WAAM3D, a spinout of Cranfield University in the UK, has introduced its new MiniWAAM 3D printer to the market, complementing its larger RoboWAAM predecessor.

Designed to be affordable and compact, it serves as a research and development tool that can also handle small batch production. The machine utilizes a dual wire plasma transferred arc (PTA) process. Essentially a big box with wheels, it is easily movable. Inside, there is a fume management solution, a Siemens PLC, and a head equipped with sensors, including cameras. The motion unit consists of a four-axis CNC system capable of handling a 60-kilogram payload. The inert chamber has a build volume of 600 x 600 x 500 mm and features argon gas, active cooling, and real-time process monitoring.

“We are very excited to be launching MiniWAAM, as its introduction brings the benefits of metal 3D printing to an even wider audience. Thanks to its versatility, MiniWAAM is ideal for the creation of small to medium-sized metal parts for prototyping and for production and research applications. Its use of 2 wire feeds also makes it of interest for those looking to experiment with composition development and multi-material structure creation. Because of MiniWAAM’s level of process monitoring, even at such a competitive price point, MiniWAAM allows research departments to carry out R&D with much higher levels of insights than the less capable ‘home-built’ kits. Moreover, transitioning from MiniWAAM to the much bigger RoboWAAM is a seamless process as the fundamental tech elements are exactly the same,” said WAAM3D CEO Filomeno Martina.

Work on Cranfield University’s preliminary WAAM projects began in 1994. WAAM3D first built propulsion tanks as a test for Airbus in 2007 and deposited tungsten for the first time in 2015. Now, the 25-person firm based in Milton Keynes has a full software suite to complement its hardware. This suite includes WAAMPlanner for slicing, WAAMKeys for material-specific tool paths, WAAMSim for simulation, and WAAMctrl for traceability, providing all the tools needed for testing and manufacturing.

The MiniWAAM is shipped along with the company’s WAAMPlanner and WAAMCtrl software. A notable feature is that the device is completely standalone, making it ideal for colleges or corporate R&D centers due to its portability and built-in safety features. One unique feature of WAAM3D is ShapeTech, which uses an interferometric sensor to monitor the deposition of individual layers and their height. The dual wire setup allows printing with two different materials simultaneously, within the same part, or with the same material at higher deposition rates. The machine also monitors the melt pool. The ability to easily transfer parts from the smaller machine to the large RoboWAAM unit is advantageous for labs that wish to transition parts to production.

Currently, the overall category of directed energy deposition (DED) and large-format metal 3D printing technologies is experiencing a renaissance, with renewed interest from aviation, automotive, construction, defense, and more. In 2021, Additive Manufacturing Research expected large-format metal 3D printing and DED to reach $739M by 2026, according to the “DED and Large-Format Additive Manufacturing Markets: 2021-2030.” Relatively straightforward and with low consumables costs, these technologies are attractive for repair and large components.

WAAM is a very efficient technology in terms of cost and speed, but it can often be somewhat haphazard. For instance, deposition is quick, but post-processing can take a long time. WAAM3D is addressing this by building all the tools needed to develop process parameters, produce parts, monitor them, fine-tune parts, and move towards more manufacturing-like processes. While other WAAM companies might rely on a “spray and pray” approach, WAAM3D is developing the tooling necessary to take the next step.

We don’t yet know if WAAM3D or WAAM technology in general can fully meet its promise. However, considering the many potential applications—from car chassis components to oil and gas—there is real promise emerging. WAAM is often maligned and overlooked, but perhaps this device will give more people a reason to incorporate it into their offerings.

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