Productivity in Metal Additive Manufacturing: a focus on Arcam and Electron Beam Melting
I'll start with Productivity
I have spent a little under a decade in the workforce and have yet to come across a business that does not find value in productivity. Businesses spend millions of dollars focusing on customer value, figuring out what gets the job done, removing inefficiencies and waste, and empowering the people operating the process. Businesses are consistently looking for tools to help them become more productive.
So, what is productivity and why is it important? Productivity is defined as the amount of output per unit of input, and is important because providing more goods and services to consumers translates to higher profits. And we all know that a higher profit is essential for the survival of any business.
I have chosen to use this bit of information as a preface to a discussion on productivity in metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) for industrial production. If you are a current or future user of a metal AM process for production, you may find this information valuable.
Metal Additive Manufacturing
I work with Arcam, a GE Additive company, supplying Electron Beam Melting (EBM) systems to customers in North America. I engage with different folks of all experience levels weekly to discuss AM and EBM.
"What is metal AM? What is EBM? How can my organization benefit from this new technology?
What else can we do with this technology that we aren't already?"
The questions are varied and are never the same from one person or company to the next. I have quite an exciting and rewarding position working in disruptive/emerging/innovative technology and teaching others about AM and EBM.
So, what is EBM? In brief, it's a metal manufacturing process. Fully dense metal components are built up, layer-by-layer of metal powder, melted by a powerful electron beam. Each layer is melted to the exact geometry defined by a CAD model. It is one of several metal AM technologies available today.
Metal AM promotes efficiency engineering. It provides an opportunity to be innovative, timesaving and economical. Metal AM also allows metal parts to be built with few limitations in geometry and without traditional tooling.
And how does this tie into my spiel on productivity? Because one of the key discussion points I like to mention when discussing EBM technology is one of which a surprisingly high number of potential users are unaware. It is also directly related to the productivity capability of EBM technology.
Here it is, short and sweet and easy to understand: you have the ability to nest and stack parts in an EBM build chamber.
In EBM, when fully built, a part is surrounded by sintered powder. This sintered powder cradles the part, providing support for complex geometries and overhangs that would otherwise require solid supports using other metal AM processes.
This example, provided by Zenith Tecnica*, demonstrates this ability, making it possible to produce 40 parts per build (2 layers; nesting and stacking; in an Arcam Q20plus), rather than 8 parts (one layer; nesting; in an EOS M 290).
The results are self-explanatory, and the differences in cost per part with the two machines are considerable.
My goal when educating potential users on EBM is to ensure key features like this are known and understood. The more potential users understand the technology, the easier it will be to integrate it into an existing production workspace.
As always, I welcome any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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*Zenith Tecnica is a New Zealand based EBM additive manufacturing specialist private company, and is active in the aerospace, marine, medical, motorsport and industrial sectors. A special thank you to Bruce McClean for providing photos and data.
**Machine, material and labor costs.