Whenever 3d printing comes to mind we immediately tend to think about small intricate parts. Some of that perception is driven by the fact that most consumer and commercial grade 3d printers only provide a build area of less than 12 inches or 300mm in any dimension. However, large format 3D printing is rapidly becoming possible for businesses of all sizes. New 3D printer models are entering the market with massive build volumes capable of producing parts a meter or more in length. With the commercial introduction of Large Format 3d Printing technology, creating large yet complex parts is no longer a challenge.
Large Format 3d Printing doesn’t only enable businesses to 3D print larger parts with ease but also saves time and money by reducing production times and material waste. These machines unlock the power to 3d print large parts like turbine blades, car chassis, and aircraft wings. With the freedom from design limitations that 3d printing provides, these parts can further benefit from features like light-weighting and enhanced performance.
Today’s article will explore the current large format 3d printing technologies available along with the material choices and their applications. We’ll also analyze the upcoming technologies that will revolutionize the large format 3d printing industry.
Large Scale 3d Printing Technologies
A number of technologies are already available when it comes to large scale 3d printing. Let us look at some of the commercially available technologies below:
Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM)
BAAM is one of the largest 3d printing technologies currently available. It uses an extruder placed on a gentry system and can create parts as large as 6 x 2.4 x 2m. It mainly uses thermoplastic materials like ABS, PPS, PC, PLA, and PEI. The BAAM configuration and manufacturing process are essentially identical to that of smaller FDM 3D printing technologies. The main difference is the size and scale of the equipment which requires a modified approach when designing the printer itself.
Large Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM)
An LSAM 3d printer has a building envelope of approximately 37 sqm and has the ability to print parts both horizontally and vertically. Its unique feature is its ability to produce parts using a hybrid approach – combining additive and subtractive technologies. LSAM is mainly used for producing industrial tooling, such as molds and production fixtures for automotive and aerospace industries.
Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM)
EBAM uses a similar process to welding, where metal is melted using an electron beam into wire form. Using this process, manufacturing of large scale metal parts with enhanced properties and microstructures is possible. Therefore, EBAM mainly has applications in industrial, naval, military and aerospace industries.
Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM)
WAAM uses an electric arc to melt metals and can make parts up to 10 m in length. It uses metal alloys such as titanium, stainless steel, nickel and bronze alloys. WAAM is very similar to EBAM and is typically used in similar applications.
Large-format 3D printing with sand
Sand based 3d printing uses a process called Binder Jetting. A liquid agent is selectively deposited onto a layer of sand to join sand particles together in accordance with the input geometry. This technology is particularly effective in the foundry industry. By using this method, large format cast metal parts can be produced much faster and at a lower cost than traditional methods.
Applications of Large Format 3D Printing
Let us have a look at the industries that can make use of large format 3d printing technologies to manufacture complex and larger parts. We will see that these industries benefit from catalyzed production, accelerated delivery, reduced material waste and the ability to create new geometries that were not achievable with traditional processes.
Learn more about the Large Format 3D printer that made these parts
3d printing has already been successfully deployed in the production of small to medium-sized parts, helping manufacturers save time and reduce costs. The Aerospace industry has been arguably one of the most enthusiastic adopters of 3D printing technology.
When it comes to the 3d printing of larger parts, the new possibilities are unveiling at a rapid speed. The benefits of using 3d printing for large parts manufacturing include reduced manufacturing time, the ability to manufacture complex geometries and less wastage of materials. These benefits are particularly enticing for the aerospace industry.
Large aerospace parts can sometimes take months to manufacture using traditional manufacturing processes. But with large format 3d printing, these parts can be manufactured in just the fraction of time and with enhanced material properties. Using a technique called consolidation, the technology can be used to multi-print different components as a single part, further reducing assembly times.
The material waste can exceed to around 80% in some traditional manufacturing processes and hence less material waste alone can save you a significant amount of money when it comes to 3d printing.
The replacement of long tail parts for classic vehicles has always been an excellent application for 3D printing. With the advancements of large format 3D printing, now almost any part of the vehicle can be replicated using one of the techniques above. Replicating automotive body panels, bezels and even mechanical parts can be accomplished using large format 3D printing. Furthermore, entire vehicles have actually been fully constructed out of 3D printed materials. Incorporating 3D printed parts has the advantage of lightweighting for performance vs. traditional manufacturing methods.
The concept of large format 3d printing is still relatively new when it comes to construction industries. However, it is rapidly gaining popularity as some recent developments have proved the possibilities and advantages of using 3d printing as an assistive technology in the construction industry. Formworks act as a mold and concrete is later poured to achieve the desired geometry. Traditional formworks are traditionally made manually, usually with wood. These formworks can only withstand 15 to 20 castings and take a lot of effort and time to build by hand.
By using BAAM technology and large format 3d printing, these formworks can be produced in complex shapes within hours. High performing thermoplastics are used in BAAM, which can withstand as many as 200 concrete pours in its lifetime.
The foundry industry creates metal castings by melting and pouring metal into specially shaped molds. The process is extremely time consuming and very complex shapes are not possible. However, with 3D printing, these traditional methods are quickly becoming outdated. With large format 3d printing, the foundry processes will take significantly less time. Furthermore, much more complex geometries will be possible when compared to traditional methods. This enhanced design freedom once again truly revolutionizes the possible applications.
Above all, the possibilities of large format 3d printing are immense. Larger parts can be manufactured at unprecedented speeds and reduced costs. Ultimately, this technology will expand to other markets including automotive and even creative advertising.