For the past few decades, research has been assessing the implications of Additive Manufacturing (AM, or 3D-printing) across many industries. AM is a technology that promises to reduce part cost by reducing material wastage and time to market. Furthermore, AM can also enable an increase in design freedom, which potentially results in weight-saving as well as facilitating the manufacture of complex assemblies formerly made of many subcomponents.

Especially, the potential of printing metals is of high interest to researchers and scientists around the globe. More recently, we have seen the successful application of a technology coined Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing – or WAAM in short. It allows for high volume output, great scalability, and very good mechanical performance. For prototypes and small-batch production runs, in particular, WAAM is a more cost-effective solution than other additive or subtractive manufacturing processes for metal.

RAMLab producing a Propeller using WAAM

The WAAM process starts with a 3D CAD file, which is processed by software running algorithms in which the 3D model is sliced in many layers. Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) uses arc welding technology to build up a component in layers, this means a metal wire is melted at the right place using a MIG welding torch to form the desired blank. WAAM hardware currently uses standard, off the shelf and low-cost welding equipment: welding power source, torches, and wire feeding systems. Motion can be provided either by robotic systems or computer numerical controlled gantries, for which the path is automatically generated at the click of a button.

A variety of materials, such as common mild steel, stainless steel, aluminium, titanium, and nickel-based metals are perfectly suitable for this AM process. As of today, countless components have already been produced using WAAM technology in a variety of sectors: impellers for machines, airplane parts for the aviation industry, car-body prototypes for automotive, and even an entire bridge for the Arts and AEC sector. Apart from building components purely additively, post-production steps such as polishing and/or machining are possible to fabricate hybrid components that feature both rapid manufacturing and very high precision. It is even possible to repair components using WAAM technology.

WAAM print-only (left) and additionally CNC machined (right)

The Future of Manufacturing

With support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), Design Robotics is collaborating to present a range of new fabrication and vision systems solutions. The goal is simple – to design for human intelligence and optimize the relationship between people and machines.

Pushing the limits of industrial robotics is a move to empower people. Navigating the increasing complexity of manufacturing inevitably supports human experience and enhances skills acquisition. At its heart, this approach celebrates the best of what robots and machines can achieve – problem-solving, and the best of what humans can do – social intelligence and contextual understanding. The remaining question is, what would you manufacture today, tomorrow, and in the future using WAAM?