by Cassandra Balentine
The abilities of three-dimensional (3D) printing and additive manufacturing (AM) extend beyond parts development and prototyping. The technology is well suited for manufacturing metal parts for a variety of industries, including aerospace, medical, and defense.
Boyd Corporation is an innovator of engineered material and thermal management technologies that seal, cool, and protect critical applications. Incodema3D is a contract 3D manufacturer utilizing AM to support prototype and production manufacturing needs to a diverse client base. Each provides an example of the role AM takes within their respective organizations.
Boyd started out in 1928 as an industrial fabricator in the Bay Area of CA. The company operates today as a dynamic, global innovator of high-performance, integrated solutions. It provides solutions designed to empower human curiosity through the safe exploration of space; enhancing the safety and flexibility of medical care and transportation; enabling faster, lighter, brighter, and more functional technology with greater power density; and improving a breadth of technologies from self-driving cars to brain surgery, 5G to smart farming, and high-powered computing devices to wearable medical technologies.
In its specialty thermal division, Aavid, Boyd celebrates a long history of developing, designing, testing, optimizing, and fabricating reliable high-performance cooling solutions across a range of industries. Through consistent innovation in engineering and manufacturing, Boyd provides optimized, cost-efficient thermal solutions and systems utilizing the largest range of traditional and advanced cooling technologies.
Gardner Trask, AM manager, Boyd, explains that heat exchangers and cold plates all have internal cavities/flow paths. A component with internal cavities requires a more complicated set of manufacturing processes. “Complexity and risk tend to be hand in hand. AM allows for the process to be streamlined into a single-piece component. This streamlined process reduces labor, high-risk operations, and time to market.”
AM also allows the company to design custom-tailored, application-specific thermal solutions within tight spaces, which were not traditionally possible. “This leads to advanced prototyping and reducing time to market for end use AM products,” comments Trask.
AM became part of Boyd’s engineering strategy when the company realized the technology’s potential and how it fit within its core strategy for advanced thermal solutions.
The company utilizes direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) on an EOS 3D printing machine. It started its AM journey in 2018 and through years of research and development created a rapidly expanding new sector of the company. AM is primarily used for end use products and prototypes, but it is also utilized for tooling to assist traditional manufacturing operations.
“We implemented AM early to be ahead of the curve and started by laying the groundwork of thermal AM applications to become an industry leader. Over years of testing we have completed the framework to understand our material and process competency and performance. From there, we have completed case studies in every major family of heat exchanger to have real-life comparisons for both performance and cost,” says Trask.
The company selected EOS due to its extensive network in the field, its additive minds team, and the existing research on the machines. “We did our due diligence; we spoke with all the major powder bed fusion players and EOS’ support, process adjustments, and maturity allowed for the ease of AM integration.”
It operates an EOS M 290 machine to qualify its process. “We have one machine now as we continue with testing and low production orders. We are in the process of expansion and choosing a second machine,” shares Trask.
A key part of its AM strategy is the advanced process knowledge. “Instead of accepting the parameter sets provided by EOS we spent years of design experiment testing to create our own parameter sets to print faster, smaller, better surface finishes, as well as many other proprietary, project-specific advancements,” he offers.
For materials, Boyd prints in aluminum alloys with initial research and plans for expansion into titanium and copper. Aluminum was the clear starting point for many reasons, one being that the majority of the thermal products traditionally manufactured in its facility are aluminum. “Choosing to start with the same material allowed for quicker choices for case studies and comparisons,” explains Trask.
Aluminum has the ability to create lightweight heat exchangers for weight-sensitive thermal applications, in most cases, aerospace applications. “This advantage of AM’s capability to create even lighter and more complex components made it the most attractive material starting point,” he adds.
Gaining Trust in AM
Boyd serves industries within its engineering and manufacturing expertise. The decision to select AM for a specific job comes down to a few major considerations.
“In most cases AM is the right solution because the most efficient design for an application is either incredibly difficult or impossible to manufacture traditionally,” shares Trask.
He says, for example, the company utilized AM for a medical thermal application due to cost savings and design simplification by part consolidation. It was able to convert a three-part brazed design into a single printed component. Boyd offers full simulation and testing to customers and utilizes AM for quicker design changes.
Further, AM often reduces time to market, including time to prototype. “With AM it is easier to integrate a new design. For example, looking to replace an existing product with a smaller, more efficient component. Making the process to manufacture and test the replacement quicker is desired and more cost effective.”
When integrating a new manufacturing process, one challenge is building trust in the process. A new manufacturing process, especially one without mass knowledge, can be difficult to implement. A large part of this is proving its legitimacy.
“There were, and still are, many unknowns in the DMLS process,” admits Trask. He says the technology, research, and standards are increasing every day. “With building trust, we see two major hurdles—the materials and the process,” he comments.
When introducing a new material for a part there is always hesitation. The material must be qualified and low risk. In the beginning years this was a major hurdle but as internal testing and the specifications for AM materials have matured this has become easier. However, with existing product transfer to AM the differences must be explained and realized.
When proposing AM for a project, a significant amount of education is typically involved. “In most cases, not a lot is known about AM and some misconceptions are normal. The major topics we educate our customers on are design differences and how the costing model works. These are both significantly different then traditional processes,” adds Trask.
Boyd’s AM capabilities stand out because it employs experienced engineers in both additive and thermal design coupled with advanced process knowledge. This enables it to design and print parts that other companies cannot.
“We have a vertically integrated shop with printing, post processing, machining, and testing—all on site at Boyd’s Woburn, MA facility. Parts can be finished quickly on site,” states Trask. The company also has trusted suppliers to help extend its manufacturing capabilities.
Walking through a typical project for Boyd, there is generally an initial order of a few prototypes for testing to prove out the design, usually delivered in a matter of weeks. A typical production follow up order can be in the hundreds or the thousands per year.
In general, large parts will take 24 to 120 hours of continuous, unmanned printing. The time depends on the size and number of parts per build. Certain-sized parts restrict how many components can fit in to the build volume and how many builds are completed a week, which ultimately constrains capacity. When capacity is constrained, it utilizes Incodema3D, LLC as a trusted supplier to expand printing capacity.
Based in Freeville, NY, Incodema3D operates out of one location with 49 employees. It has room to grow in its expansive 60,000 square foot facility, but it is filling it up quickly. James Hockey, director of business development, Incodema3D, estimates the business has grown about 20 percent every year.
When launching Incodema3D eight years ago, Hockey says the plan always was to work with metal. “Since a majority of 3D printing is focused on plastics, metal 3D manufacturing is less commoditized,” he explains.
The manufacturer also realized the business model for metal 3D parts manufacturing would be more advantageous in serial production, as the development time to create repeatable build parameters for specific parts can be both time consuming and expensive.
Like Boyd, the metal parts producer uses laser powder bed fusion AM and EOS machines to manufacture 3D printed parts. It utilizes a computer-controlled laser welder in an inert environment and works with a variety of metals including aluminum, titanium, cobalt, chrome, copper, and tungsten.
While the laser powder bed fusion method is advantageous, it also presents certain challenges. For example,
Incodema3D is often tasked with creating heat exchangers, which are primarily used to transfer heat where needed in complex machinery like aircrafts. With powder bed fusion, one laser pass creates a wall that could interfere with the powder recoating arm as it comes across, resulting in an imperfect or failed build.
“Simulation software continues to improve this step. However, it does take time, and sometimes many iterations to get it right. This results in non-recurring engineering costs on the front end,” shares Hockey.
To support its production capabilities, Incodema3D operates 3D printing machines from EOS like the M 280s and M 290s, EOS M 400-1s and M 400-4s, and a 3D Systems, Inc. ProX DMP 320.
The company started out with equipment from different manufacturers to get a feel for the best fit. At one point it had four different brands on the floor, but EOS quickly became its go-to machine.
“It’s hard to dial into a welding process and have a machine run for 48 hours without crashing. It’s also a service thing, EOS has great service technicians and in manufacturing you have to keep things running,” says Hockey.
Development and Production
The processes involved in parts development, engineering, and production must be efficient and precise. Both Boyd and Incodema3D understand the advantages of AM and work internally to perfect part design and production, offering their clients precision and accuracy on 3D printed pieces. IPM
Sep2021, Industrial Print Magazine