Ingersoll and ORNL Partner for Massive WHAM 3D Printer
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on September 27, 2016 |
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) made a huge impact on the world of 3D printing, literally and figuratively, when it worked with Cincinnati Inc. to develop the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) 3D printer, which is capable of depositing thermoplastic-carbon fiber composite at rapid rates and large sizes. ORNL is ready to one-up itself by partnering with massive equipment manufacturer Ingersoll Machine Tools, Inc to produce the Wide and High Additive Manufacturing (WHAM). 

 

A rendering of the Ingersoll WHAM 3D printer. (Image courtesy of Ingersoll.)
A rendering of the Ingersoll WHAM 3D printer. (Image courtesy of Ingersoll.)

No, it’s not a tribute to George Michaels. Once completed, the WHAM will be a 3D printing system that is even larger than the BAAM with built-in computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling capabilities. To learn more about the up-and-coming technology, ENGINEERING.com spoke with Tino Oldani, president & CEO of Ingersoll, and Curtis Goffinski, senior applications engineer for Applications & Manufacturing Technology at Ingersoll.

Manufacturing Tech at Ingersoll

Despite its over 100-year history, Ingersoll went bankrupt in 2003, at which point it was purchased by the Italian Comozzi Group. Ingersoll manufactures large-scale CNC milling and fiber placement systems, both of which will contribute to the WHAM development process.

Oldani explained that, once the company was purchased, the Comozzi Group set about implementing fiber placement on high-profile projects. “We have been active since 2004 and one of the first projects we initiated was to be on the Boeing 787 with our fiber placement machines. To give you an idea of how important this is, 70 percent of the fuselage of the 787 is laid down using Ingersoll fiber placement machines,” Oldani said.

Ingersoll’s cutting technology has also played a role in some pretty enormous projects. For instance, the company, which is a service provider in addition to machine manufacturer, produced the aluminum aft bulkhead for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which is meant to carry astronauts into low Earth orbit.

Goffinski pointed out how this history of large-scale manufacturing will be essential to building the WHAM. “Obviously, we have a history of experience with additive processes for composite material, so we have a lot of process knowledge about what goes into controlling the machine and controlling the process parameters for making a good part.”

From BAAM to WHAM

Ingersoll began discussions with ORNL for the development of the WHAM machine two years ago before finalizing agreements this past summer. ORNL has already leveraged its experience with large-scale additive manufacturing (AM) with the BAAM to win a Guinness World Record for the largest solid 3D-printed component.

“We’re learning a lot of information from them about what they’ve learned in extruding plastics, but also some of what they’ve learned as far as planning the [tool] path and how each layer is built as the height and thickness of a part. Obviously, they’re the world leaders at it right now, so they will be able to understand any challenges associated with printing extremely large objects,” Goffinski said.

An Ingersoll vertical gantry CNC machine. (Image courtesy of Ingersoll.)
An Ingersoll vertical gantry CNC machine. (Image courtesy of Ingersoll.)

Ingersoll has already begun research and development on a 3D printing extruder that can be outfitted to a vertical CNC machine to 3D print objects as large as 23 ft wide by 10 ft high by 46 ft long, which beats the largest version of the BAAM, measuring 20 ft x 7.5 ft x 6 ft. Just as impressive is the fact that it will print up to an astounding 1,000 pounds per hour, 25 times faster than the BAAM’s 40 pounds per hour. The system will initially print a thermoplastic composite made up of 20 percent carbon fiber.

Of the speed, Goffinski explained, “[1,000 pounds per hour is] the target because, if we print a structure that is 10 times larger than the BAAM or something that’s 20 feet wide by however many hundreds of feet long, we don’t want to take long to print. That’s valuable machine time that could be used.” 

Hybrid 3D Printing Technology

Ingersoll isn't the only outfit working on large-scale composite 3D printing. In fact, as industry adopts AM to make end-use parts, an increasing number of firms have embarked on 3D printing with carbon fiber at scale. In addition to the BAAM, EnvisionTEC unveiled its enormous composite printer at RAPID this year. Just this month, Thermwood Corporation announced its LSAM (Large Scale Additive Manufacturing) system, which is similar to the WHAM in that is capable of both CNC and rapid 3D printing large objects.

While the LSAM also has a large build envelope that is over 100 feet long, its CNC head is installed on a separate gantry from its printhead so that it can print and mill simultaneously. The WHAM in contrast will feature an automated tool switching mechanism that allows it to swap out its printhead and mill head mid-print.

Goffinski elaborated, “Either in process or in the middle of a part even, but definitely at the end of a part, we need to touch up mold lines and do any finishing work that additive manufacturing has challenges with, which would be like good surface finishes and round holes—those are the things that subtractive manufacturing still has the advantage over. So they’d be able to print a part to near net shape and then finish the part with a milling attachment with the part additively printed on the same machine in the same location and do all of the finishing work that’s necessary.” 

The weight of incorporating the printhead into an Ingersoll CNC machine also shouldn't pose a problem, even when shooting for a 1,000-pound-per-hour deposition rate and moving at speeds of 164 (548 ft) or 197 (646 ft) meters per minute. “To give you an idea, an end effector for fiber placement is about 4 to 5 tons, so 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 pounds. So, for us, moving a 3D printing head is not really an issue,” Oldani said.

WHAM’s Big Debut

Oldani explained that Ingersoll aims to bring the technology to market within two years’ time. Moreover, it's possible that the WHAM could not only grow in size when the 3D printing head is integrated into larger Ingersoll systems, but it could even be compatible with the company’s fiber layup technology. Oldani said that, once the WHAM has been built, “there will be opportunities to combine the two technologies.” 

When the WHAM gets to market, Goffinski said that the applications for the technology will be left up to Ingersoll customers. However, the Ingersoll team will work to develop materials and capabilities that suit customer needs. One application that has already been expressed by potential customers is the fabrication of molds and tooling, a growing area of use for 3D printing large and small.

What the recent emergence of the WHAM, BAAM, LSAM and other composite 3D printers indicates is that there is a demand for this technology, it's not going away, and it will have a huge impact both on the trillion dollar manufacturing industry and the billion dollar 3D printing industry.

For the 3D printing industry, Goffinski anticipates an effect on the cost of materials. “If we have these machines consuming 1,000 pounds of material an hour, it’s really going to override the current material suppliers and hopefully drive down the cost of material because these machines are going to be needing such a gross amount of feedstock,” he said.

“As far as affecting manufacturing,” Goffinski continued, “the goal with 3D printing from the start has been to decrease the labor costs, decrease the production costs, and the time to create a part…. Instead of taking a year to make a mold for any sort of large-scale part, it now takes a month at a tenth of the cost. Industry will be able to prototype their parts a lot faster and industry will be able to innovate faster because that cycle from design to manufacture to test is now being shortened by 80 percent.”

Oldani likened this impact to transportation by air or by car. “Let’s say that some of the products we are looking at and some of the applications we are looking at today to do with this additive manufacturing technique are not feasible with the present technology. So, what we are introducing is a game changer. How much is that worth? If you are looking at prototyping and you go from months to days, what is the gauge? How do you judge? It’s like the difference between going from New York to Los Angeles by car or by airplane. It is a game changer.” 

Needless to say, the 3D printing and manufacturing industries will be grateful for these developments. So much so that they will say, “WHAM! BAAM! Thank you, ma’am!”

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