An Atlanta company which sprung from research work done at Georgia Tech has created a process which uses a ceramic resin material cured with UV light to produce cores and molds for investment casting, and the technology promises to shake up the manufacturing world.
DDM Systems and inventor Suman Das of the Georgia Tech Direct Digital Manufacturing Lab say the LAMP (Large Area Maskless Photopolymerization) 3D printer will cut the amount of time to produce complex metal parts by orders of magnitude.
Das has been engaged in cutting edge research in advanced design, manufacturing, and materials science at Georgia Tech. During the 1990s, Das, a graduate student researcher in the Laboratory for Freeform Fabrication at the University of Texas, worked on the development of Selective Laser Sintering and helped to demonstrate high quality metallurgical parts using SLS and laser melting. His current research is focused on advanced manufacturing, materials science, and computational modeling covering all material classes and length scales for applications in the aerospace propulsion, biomedical, energy and nanotechnology sectors.
The process itself is a sort of hybridized stereolithography which uses a thin layer of a ceramic resin spread across a build platform. A traveling head prints the object layer into the resin which is instantly cured with UV lights.
Das and a team of researchers with funding from the Department of Defense and the Disruptive Manufacturing Technology project developed and then licensed the process from Georgia Tech. Once the details of the licensing agreement were complete, Das and his partner, John Halloran, created DDM Systems to commercialize the technology.
Halloran, an authority on 3D printing ceramics, invented the ceramic photopolymerization methods used for ceramic stereolithography which ultimately gave rise to DDM's LAMP technology. He also served as Program Manager in Advanced Ceramics CPS Technologies and the Vice President of Technology for CPS Superconductors, which were both spin-offs of the MIT program which became Ceramic Process Systems.
According to Das, intricately detailed parts and precision molds can be printed at very high resolution to speed the investment casting process.
Das says the patented LAMP technology offers "an unprecedented ability to rapidly manufacture precision parts and components, en masse or in smaller batches, with macro-scale exterior dimensions (centimeters to tens of centimeters) and fine micro-scale interior features (tens to hundreds of microns)" without facing the traditional limitations of resolution, object size, and production speed.
The company says LAMP is a direct replacement for multi-step and low-yield lost wax investment casting methods and adds that the process saves time, costs, material, and energy, without requiring additional handiwork or compromise on component performance. According to DDM, its LAMP platform eliminates 7 out of the dozen major process steps in state-of-the art investment casting.
Featuring an adjustable build platform which can be configured anywhere from 10" x 10" x 12" to 24" x 24" x 24" for production, the LAMP device is entirely self contained and integrates all object handling and post-processing tasks.
According to DDM Systems, the process could be applied to the manufacture of turbine components made from nickel-base superalloys. The machines will be available sometime next year.
See the process in action here.