Cincinnati Inc. and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are looking to push the limits of 3D printers.

The two have signed an agreement to develop a 3D printer capable of printing polymer components up to 10 times larger than currently producible, and at speeds 200 to 500 times faster than existing machines.

The agreement calls for the machine to be ready for retail sale by the end of the year, but Cincinnati Market Development Manager Richard Neff said, "We may, however, have machines for sale before the completion of the agreement, depending on the features that customers require."

Pricing has not yet been established.

The cooperative research and development agreement aims to introduce significant new capabilities to the U.S. machine tool sector, which supplies manufacturing technology to a wide range of industries including automotive, aerospace, appliance and robotics.

A prototype of the large-scale additive machine is in development using the chassis and drives of Cincinnati's gantry-style laser cutting system as the base, with plans to incorporate a high-speed cutting tool, pellet feed mechanism and control software for additional capability.

"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," Cincinnati CEO Andrew Jamison said. "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."

Cincinnati was one of the first laser cutting system manufacturers to use high-speed linear-motor axis drives, developed in-house, with accelerations exceeding 2.0G and head positioning speeds of up to 10,000 in./min. The proprietary linear motor drives deliver positioning accuracy of ±0.001 in. per axis, with work envelopes up to 8 ft. x 20 ft. (2.5 m x 6 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," Jamison said.

The partnership supports the U.S. Energy Department's "Clean Energy Manufacturing" initiative to increase the efficiency of U.S. manufacturing and continue the development of innovative technologies.

"The agreement with Cincinnati Incorporated exemplifies ORNL's strong commitment to working with industry to move our innovations into real-world applications," ORNL Director Thom Mason said. "These partnerships come with the potential for significant energy and economic impacts."