Machine tool builder Cincinnati Incorporated and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory initiated a partnership by which they intend to develop a new machine for additive manufacturing (AM) of polymer parts in dimensions up to 10 times larger than is possible by current technologies.
The goal also includes increasing the speed of the three-dimensional printing process — 200 to 500 times faster, according to their statement.
The time frame and other terms of the agreement were not announced.
A prototype of the new machine is in development, according to Cincinnati, based on designs and technologies drawn from other manufacturing processes.
A source at ORNL explained the system that now exists has a build volume of 8 ft. x 8 ft. x 8 ft. build volume, manufacturing polymer parts at a rate of approximately 500 cu.in/hour (or “two orders of magnitude greater than most commercial systems.”). This is described as an additive/subtractive system that offers rapid build rates and will achieve good surface qualities on the finished parts.
As for applications, the source indicated that the printed output would be used as tooling parts.
Cincinnati Inc. designs and manufactures various types of machine tools and manufacturing technologies, including laser-cutting systems, press brakes, and shears, all processes that can be configured for large-scale product designs.
ORNL is a federal research center in Oak Ridge, Tenn., managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Previously, it had established a research program (or “thrust area”) to work with AM equipment manufacturers and customers to develop product design and construction techniques, emphasizing product customization, performance and multi-functionality.
Referring to the DOE’s “Clean Energy Manufacturing” initiative, ORNL director Thom Mason said the partnership exemplifies the Lab’s commitment to developing technology with real-world applications. “These partnerships come with the potential for significant energy and economic impacts,” according to Mason.
Cincinnati’s contributions to the project will include the high-speed linear-motor axis drives it developed for laser-cutting systems, achieving accelerations over 2.0G and head positioning speeds of up to 10,000 in./min.
The drives achieve positioning accuracy of ±0.001 in./axis, with work envelopes up to 8x20 ft. (2.5x6 m).
“We have the largest installed base of high-speed laser cutting systems, so this machine platform has been field tested and proven to be virtually trouble free,” according to CEO Andrew Jamison.
Cincinnati also has a line of powdered-metal compacting presses for high-volume production of metal parts, a process with similarities to the AM technique under consideration for polymer products at Oak Ridge.
The co-op partners claim to be developing new capabilities for U.S. manufacturing, specifically a new production machine that uses chassis and drive technology of a gantry-style laser cutting system, modified with a high-speed cutting tool, a pellet-feeding mechanism to supply the polymer raw material, and control software to that executes the production process.
“As one of the oldest U.S. machine tool makers, with continuous operation since 1898, we view this as an opportunity to start a new chapter in our history,” stated Jamison. “Over the years, we’ve supplied more than 40 metal working machine tools to Oak Ridge and its subcontractors. Now, working together, we intend to lead the world in big-area additive manufacturing for prototyping and production.”