PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world’s largest professional services firm and the largest of the “Big Four” accountancy firms measured by 2012 revenues, made some bullish observations about Electron Beam Melting Technology (EBM) which is patented by Arcam AB (AMAVF). Arcam is a Swedish 3D printing company that few US investors seem to know about in comparison to Stratasys Ltd (SSYS), 3D Systems Corp. (DDD), and The ExOne Company (XONE).
In this report by PwC, 3D Printing: A Potential Game-Changer For Aerospace and Defense the current limitations of 3d printing technologies other than EBM in the defense and aerospace industries are pointed out.
The following is quoted from this report:
If 3D printing remains confined to prototypes, demo units, and spacecraft, then it won’t be much of a game changer for industry.
Does 3D printing have the potential to significantly change the A&D value chain? Perhaps, but it ultimately will depend on how far 3D printing can improve its quality and its speed.
Product quality is the Achilles’ heel of every production technology. Laser melting has improved significantly over the past several years, but it still produces parts with micro-voids and heat-induced stress. Equipment manufacturers are continuing to improve the deposition quality of this technology, but it will probably never be void-free, thus limiting its use to non-critical load-bearing parts.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM) has emerged as a higher quality alternative to laser melting. The very high-energy density of the electron beam technology enables it to produce fully dense,void-free parts.
Electron Beam Melting technology is increasingly being used in the manufacture and repair of turbine blades.
The biggest hurdle to mass adoption is processing speed. Because of its intricate, layer-by-layer nature, current 3D printing technology takes hours to days to complete jobs. This cycle time is sufficient for prototypes and very small production quantities, but it quickly becomes untenable at higher production volumes.
However, advances in electron beam and powder feedstock technologies may enable higher speeds, making EBM a viable production technology suitable for many more applications, including those for most aerospace and defense programs.
Arcam AB has been profiled recently on Engineering.com in this article, and an interview with the CEO, Magnus René, can be accessed here.
Disclosure: I am long shares of Arcam AB. I received no compensation from Arcam AB or any third party for this article.