France-based Prodways has announced a new method of 3D printing in metal that they call, “RAF”, for Rapid Additive Forging.
The RAF process does not involve a powder bed as do many other 3D metal printers. Instead the process involves depositing liquid metal within a secure chamber free of oxygen. The deposition mechanism is a robot arm that moves freely within the chamber.
Prodways explains that this process should have a quality advantage:
With respect to other comparable technologies developed by market players, the Prodways Group’s Rapid Additive Forging technology uses a distinctive metal deposition technology focusing on the metallurgical quality and the repeatability of the process. The first metallurgical tests conducted on different parts revealed an absence of porosity and greater mechanical resistance compared with usual 3D metal printing techniques using laser or electron beam sintering.
They’ve patented the process, which apparently was developed in part with one of their sister companies, Commerce Robotique, who specialized in robotic welding technology. This sounds like they’ve repurposed that technology within a 3D printing environment and software.
They have not yet published the specifications of the RAF system, but they seem to say that the process is fast, with a part “completed within a few hours”.
However, we also don’t yet know the resolution of the printer.
On the other hand, that may not matter:
These blanks are then finish-machined, thus avoiding considerable losses of material which can represent up to 95% of the metal block with traditional machining processes.
In other words, they print a rough copy, which is then milled to final state. The results should be good, and they certainly appear so in the images at top. This could mean they actually do print faster - and coarser - with the deposition robot, but recover the surface finish later. But there are then two steps to complete the print.
There is no word on pricing or availability, as they seem to be at the prototype stage now. They say they have a prototype that is capable of 3D printing a 70cm object in solid titanium, which is quite impressive.
What’s going to even more impressive is a future system they say will be able to print objects up to 2m in length.
The choices for 3D metal printing continue to increase.