For the past 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.
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.
The remaining question is, what would you manufacture today, tomorrow and in the far future using WAAM?