How to Leave Your Mark with SupportFree Metal AM

by | Aug 4, 2021 | Interviews

As a designer, you’re constantly trying to solve complex problems. Maybe you want to create a new capability that everyone else thinks is impossible. Or maybe you just have a strong desire change the world for the better.

But while you can dream up your innovation, can you manufacture it and make your design a reality? And can you do so at the performance and time requirements needed to make a strong business case for you and your organization?

The latest installment of our VELOVirtual series, “How to Leave Your Mark with SupportFreeTM Metal AM” is all about answering those questions and more. During the webinar, Velo3D’s Will Hasting, Director, Aviation & Power Turbine Solutions and Gene Miller, Technical Sales Engineer explored the following topics:

  • The challenge of stress in metal AM and the limits of support structures
  • The Velo3D end-to-end manufacturing solution and how it can revolutionize your parts development and manufacturing
  • Designs that generate a strong business model and buy-in at the organization level
  • How our reliable and scalable SupportFree™ metal AM technology helps build the parts you need at the required quality and performance you need them

Keep reading for a recap of the webinar or watch the full presentation here:

YouTube player

Leaving your mark with metal AM

The webinar kicked off with Will Hasting echoing the theme of “leaving your mark”. “As a former design engineer, I was always working on future designs, and always thinking about how I can break through to advance the state of ours,” said Hasting. “And there’s no better way to do that than with additive manufacturing.”

He talked about Velo3D’s founding in 2014 and the company’s rise to prominence as an advanced solution due to its ability to “print geometries that no one else in the world can print”.

Hasting also spoke about the level of process and quality control inherent to Velo3D, as well as the consistency customers can expect from Velo3D’s fleet of Sapphire® metal AM printers, which all serve as key differentiators to traditional metal AM technologies. 

What is Laser Powder Bed Fusion?

Before discussing the specific applications created with Velo3D, the presentation shifted to an overview of the laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF) technology employed by Velo3D systems. L-PBF is the most common type of metal additive manufacturing. For those unfamiliar, L-PBF is the process of making metal parts by melting a very fine powder with a laser.

“With laser power bed fusion, you have a chamber where you have the powder and you have a part that’s being printed and there’s a piston that moves down in increments,” explained Hasting. “Then you have a recoater, which applies a fine film of powder… and then afterwards, you have a set of lasers up top that are coming down and melting the powder onto the substrate itself. And layer by layer the CAD model that has been sliced is produced in increments.”

The What and Why of supports

At Velo3D, we often talk about our ability to print complex geometries down to zero degrees without the need for supports. During the session, Hasting spoke about supports, why they’re used, and why Velo3D’s SupportFree™ process is such a game-changer for unlocking more complex and higher performing parts.

“There are different aspects to supports, Hasting said. “They’re used to hold down the part and to basically control against residual stresses that occur during the printing process. If you think about what we’re doing, we’re melting powder, melting metal, and so you have very high residual stresses that are created while the molten metal cools down.”

Hasting also spoke about the consequences of poor thermal management and lack of support structures often seen with traditional approaches to metal AM technologies. “If you don’t have supports and the process is not well controlled…you’ll have protrusions that occur that bend the geometry,” he said.

Hastings went on to explain how traditional metal AM systems have tried tackling the issue of supports and the problems they introduce. He showed an example of a shrouded impeller, a complex yet critical part in aerospace and oil & gas industries, that introduces numerous challenges during the manufacturing process due to its enclosed channels.

Because of their complexity, and to try and overcome the constraints of traditional AM, shrouded impellers are often tilted at a (typically around 45-degree) angle. The problem with printing at an angle is that it becomes impossible to preserve the axisymmetry of the design.

These parts tend to print ‘out-of-round’ making them difficult or even impossible to balance and spin at high RPMs. To retain cylindricity, it is critical to print rotational components flat to the build plate.  

Additionally, in the case of L-PBF 3D printing, the mechanical properties in the Z-direction can be different than in the X/Y plane due to the layer-by-layer process. So, by printing at a slant, you end up with mechanical properties that change as you go around the circle.

Hasting explained that supports have been used on traditional metal AM printers to try and avoid tipping the part in the build chamber; however, this too introduces quality issues related to inconsistent surface finishing, not to mention the difficulty in machining out or breaking away hard-to-reach interior supports.  

The good news, he explained, is that our end-to-end manufacturing solution solves this issue by printing angles down to zero degrees without supports. This enables rotational components to be printed flat to the build plate to achieve the desired axisymmetric design. This ultimately allows for greater geometric freedom, dimensional stability, and part performance than traditional AM techniques.

Real-world metal AM parts

Hasting then passed it off to Gene Miller, who provided an array of real-world practical applications attainable with Velo3D.

Gene spoke about the various innovations we’ve helped organizations achieve, including those by SpaceX, Sierra Turbines, KW Micro Power, and Hanwha Power Systems, to name a few.

Here’s some of the parts Gene discussed and the benefits attained by manufacturing with Velo3D.

SpaceX: The SpaceX Raptor engine features parts printed using Velo3D Sapphire® 3D metal printers. Our technology has been critical for the company’s most efficient and challenging engine, which are designed and produced around the capabilities of our manufacturing technology.

Sierra Turbines Microturbine: With Velo3D, Sierra Turbines consolidated 61 parts into one. It also designed its Aurelius MK-1 microturbine to be 40x more efficient, provide 10x more power density, and to be 50% lighter in weight than traditionally manufactured microturbines thanks to Velo3D’s technology.

Hanwha Turbomachinery: With Velo3D, Hanwha was able to print its impeller flat to the built plate with no internal supports. The part was able to be balanced and tested in several thousand RPMs. Development time was accelerated. And there was no redesign required when developing the part.

PWR Heat Exchanger: This small 3” cubed heat exchanger application was printed in aluminum F357 with very thin 320um leak tight walls, 220μm delicate turbulator features, and a higher quality surface finish resulting in a 33% lower pressure drop (when compared to other traditional AM prints).

KW Micro Power 10-Inch Titanium Disk: This part illustrates Velo3D’s ability to print large, bulky titanium parts thanks to our unique internal stress reduction technique. This helped reduce the risk of cracking during the build – a common issue for large, printed titanium parts.

Pressure Vessels: Another example of where Velo3D technology really shines and another part that you wouldn’t be able to print using conventional AM technology. The pressure vessels on display during the presentation featured low-angle close outs and was printed without internal support materials.

How Do We Offer SupportFreeTM Metal AM?

With so much talk about supports and our SupportFreeTM process, Hasting returned for the next part of the presentation to provide greater insight about how we do what we do.

He explained how our breakthrough SupportFreeTM process is enabled by our end-to-end symphony of solutions: FlowTM Software, the Sapphire® family of printers, the AssureTM quality control system and the underlying SupportFreeTM manufacturing processes that tie it all together.

At the heart of it is our intelligent FlowTM software that analyzes the part and figures out the unique recipes needed to perfectly produce each feature. FlowTM automatically applies the right recipe from a standardized library of highly sophisticated recipes designed to accurately print the most challenging geometries. Because the library is standardized across our entire fleet of printers, customers only need to prepare a single print file (VeloPrint) per part in order to print on any Velo3D Sapphire® printer in the world.

Hasting explained how the Velo3D Sapphire® printer has been built with the ability to produce parts accurately, driven by the instructions created with Flow. “We had to invent a number of unique subsystems that are required to implement our sophisticated recipes,” he said. “These recipes are very hard to control, and we invented a whole set of process metrology that monitors the quality of the build and provides feedback on the parts quality.” The Sapphire printers each host nearly 1,000 different sensors to create that process metrology.

Because it’s not enough just to build a part; it needs to be built to the exacting standards required of it, Hasting took the time to explain how our AssureTM quality validation software works. “Basically, we have 920 different sensors that are continuously monitoring throughout the build process, and it gives a level of insight into the build process that is unparalleled with other metal AM systems,” he said.

Other topics discussed

  • Velo3D’s patented non-contact recoater
  • The different Sapphire® family of 3D metal AM printers (Sapphire®, Sapphire® 1MZ, and Sapphire® XC)
  • Supported materials
  • Build reporting

If you’re interested in learning more about how Velo3D advanced metal AM can transform your manufacturing process, get in touch with one of our expert engineers today.

About the Author

Amir Iliaifar

Sr. Content Marketing Manager

Amir Iliaifar is the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Velo3D where he oversees the production and distribution of Velo3D’s digital content marketing initiatives. Prior to joining the company, Amir worked for a leading professional drone manufacturer, several SaaS companies, and as a tech journalist.