The Swedish company Freemelt is a pioneer in E-PBF machines (Open Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion). The company manufactures systems with an open architecture in which every conceivable parameter is available to the user for modification. These types of systems are ideal for research institutes that characterize new materials and carry out state-of-the-art work in materials science or in electron beam 3D printing themselves. Freemelt gives users access to the guts of the machine and many configuration options that they can also explore in their software. Your Freemelt One systems have a 6 kW electron beam cannon and bed temperatures up to 1200 ° C. It has ports for easily adding instruments to the printer. The One also has open architecture software and a knowledge sharing community.
All in all, the Freemelt is a great open source system for your research lab or national lab. The KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm also believes that it has just ordered two Freemelt One systems, one for the KTH itself for material development and one for the DESY particle accelerator in Hamburg.
Greta Lindwall, assistant professor at the Faculty of Materials Science and Technology at KTH, has received a scholarship from the Röntgen Ångström Cluster for DESY. The Röntgen Ångström Cluster is a joint Swedish and German research initiative for research into synchrotron and neutron radiation sources. The research initiative supports, among other things, the photon sources PETRA III and FLASH at the German Electron Synchrotron DESY in Hamburg. A synchrotron is a particle accelerator in which the particles move in a loop. The largest synchrotron is the Large Hadron Collider.
The aim of the project is to “create a sample environment that enables time-resolved studies of the behavior of alloys while they are exposed to conditions typical of the selected electron beam melting of 3D printing technology.” Since Lindwall does a lot of cutting edge work in superalloys and other high temperature materials we can assume that this will speed up their work in this area. She says that,
“Since AM is a new and complex manufacturing technology, we still don’t understand a lot about the behavior of the materials during the process. When the layers are melted, remelted, and subjected to cyclic heating and cooling, the manufactured part acquires a complex thermal history. And it is difficult to understand the conditions of the process and how they affect the material just by looking at the microstructures of the finished parts using standard laboratory characterization techniques. “
“This is why we want to study how the alloy structures develop during AM by tracking them in real time. This is possible if miniature AM machines are designed to mimic AM conditions while tracking material behavior using high-energy X-rays generated by a synchrotron source. “
This is very exciting, especially since this type of work has not yet been done for electron beam 3D printing, despite the fact that laser systems have been used at the University of Manchester and others on similar projects. This would be a good place to start if someone was trying to make an e-beam system like VELO3D’s impressive laser technology.
3D printing is a black box in which very little information is available about what is actually happening with the gas flow or, for example, in the melt pool. Any kind of research that contributes to a better fundamental understanding of 3D printing as a process will accelerate all of our efforts. Traditionally, the electron beam lagged far behind the laser PBF as more and more companies and governments pushed laser systems and research funding for these machines. However, with the use of the technology in aviation, space and orthopedics, there has been a renaissance of the electron beam. This has led to much more electron beam research studying new materials, new applications, and developments like gradient parts.
For me, Freemelt’s progress is very important to the industry. Open and open source platforms can significantly accelerate research. More people working together with Freemelt systems could at the same time help to accelerate an ever larger pool of scientists. I also think the market for these very open, entry-level metal printers is interesting.
Freemelt’s systems could not only be for your research laboratory, but also the first step in your company’s commitment to 3D printing. I really appreciate the open architecture and open source nature of these systems as a stepping stone for certain manufacturing devices. If we look at what Dunlee did in developing 3D printed tungsten specifically for CT anti-scatter grids, there are many similar ways that a very high quality part can be made by commercializing a new material specifically for that part. Similarly, we could also see that for some very specific parts it might make sense to commercialize a particular alloy just to make those parts. Imagine an optimal alloy for a particular turbo engine part or an optimal design for a particular rocket engine nozzle. Or what if you need to make a specific component with a specific shape and then take a Freemelt One and customize the printer for just that one item? Or how about if you build a very specific production line with a One as the centerpiece? I love all of these ideas and I think they point to a broader future for Freemelt.