Directed Energy

How to build, repair and enhance manufacturing with directed energy deposition

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Modernizing manufacturing approaches with additive manufacturing (AM) can save time, improve performance and may be more familiar to new users than older AM technology. Similar to welding, directed energy deposition (DED) is an AM technology that relies on a laser, motion system and material to deposit beads. This commercially available technology is being used in conjunction with traditional manufacturing methods to repair, clad and 3-D print metallic parts.

FormAlloy DED technology is being applied across a diverse set of manufacturing sectors, including aerospace and defense, consumer goods, energy, automotive and general industry. Its versatility enables advanced manufacturing capabilities with a single system.

The FormAlloy DED process utilizes a system in which metallic feedstock that includes powder or wire is fed through a deposition nozzle and heated with a laser to produce a metallic bead. Employing a motion system, the metallic bead is laid down and then layered up to build a part or add material to an existing part. The ability to deposit powder or standard welding wire provides another example of versatility to keep material costs as low as possible for a specific application.

The deposition/welding process is adjustable to meet specific requirements such as build rate and size by adjusting parameters such as laser type, laser power, bead width, motion speed, and powder or wire feed rates. This scalable technology can be used with a range of materials, including nickel, cobalt, iron, copper, carbide, titanium, aluminum, magnetic materials and more, showcasing the versatility of DED.

FormAlloy’s directed energy deposition (DED) system building a large aerospace component.

Application versatility

The adoption of DED technology is enabling industries such as aerospace, transportation, consumer goods, and oil and gas, owing to the scalability and range of capabilities offered by a single system. DED technology can expand the design envelope and enable the creation of features with intricate geometries that were previously challenging or even impossible using conventional methods. Furthermore, traditional manufacturing-produced parts can undergo repair or remanufacturing by adding material to worn or corroded surfaces.

Tooling for new designs can be modified by rebuilding only certain features. With current supply chain challenges, castings and forgings can be modified or repaired selectively, eliminating the need to reproduce entire parts.

FormAlloy’s DEDSmart system for large builds.

Automation and quality

When building and repairing parts via welding, the process often involves manual and extensive touch labor. This can be costly. Also, manual processes are more subject to variability as each welder may have slight differences in results. When DED systems first hit the market, they had somewhat similar issues as they involved extensive operator interactions, troubleshooting, parameter development and training, and still often resulted in inconsistent builds.

FormAlloy entered the market in 2016 to advance DED technology without the need for a material scientist to operate and alter the machine. FormAlloy’s DEDSmart suite of sensors and software allows the operator to focus on build preparation and slicing and enables the machine to run autonomously with real-time in-situ monitoring. This provides insight into the quality and enables repeatability from part to part, whether it is being used to build or repair parts.

FormAlloy’s DED system, including autonomous monitoring and control solutions, provides repeatable, lights-out production with 90 percent lower variable labor costs using a proprietary suite of sensors, software and CNC controllers resulting in superior repeatability, part quality and lower cost of ownership.

Unmatched data output solutions offer insights for the entire part build to verify consistency and quality, enable machine learning processes and enable true digital build certification processes.

Examples of part repair, laser cladding and new part creation using the DED system. On the left, a locomotive shaft remanufactured using 4140 steel. On the right, a rocket nozzle printed out of Inconel 625.

Driven by a vision of a versatile, robust technology platform without the limitations of other metal AM systems, the company’s numerous critical proprietary solutions address significant industry needs. FormAlloy’s DEDSmart Data says goodbye to the black box one might expect when utilizing an AM system. Seamlessly integrated into DEDSmart Control, this enables real-time, time-stamped data recording at fast speeds.

FormAlloy’s standard features related to data monitoring and control include:

  • Enables recording of all build parameter data
  • Customizable data capture rate up to 500 Hz continuously
  • Customizable data labels and parameters
  • External HD recording for ease of transfer
  • No internet or network connection required
  • CSV file output
  • Clean, structured output including meta data
  • Automatic report building in PDF format
  • Automatic serial number assignment and organization
  • Standard QC workflow included in meta data

End users may also elect to participate in the annual maintenance, which provides access to future software releases, but is not required to continue to run the system. A customizable QC workflow is another optional feature.

Industry impact

With the AM industry estimated to reach a value of more than $60 billion by 2030 with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 20 percent, both existing and new applications will come online. This technology adoption has been estimated to streamline new product release timelines by up to 25 percent. And over the next several years, it is estimated that the majority of global manufacturing operations will incorporate tooling made with or modified through AM technology into their production lines. These trends signify both current and future impacts, showcasing the transformative influence of AM across diverse industrial landscapes.

Additive manufacturing technology such as FormAlloy’s DED improves build times, expands build envelopes, improves efficiency and quality, and provides integration flexibility. This technology is available and in operation today and will continue to advance the fabrication and manufacturing industries.\

A cross-section of fully embedded copper alloy into nickel superalloy powered by the DED system.

Future of DED

Investing in new technology can be challenging and risky, so it is important to find value in current as well as future applications. Fabricators and manufacturers are well aware of the demand to build and repair parts with short lead times and high quality. However, the near future holds another key possibility – improving the performance of parts through advanced materials.

Proprietary multi-material solutions deliver unique industry capabilities by printing multiple alloys with one system, printing multi-material structures and offering critical high-throughput alloy development technologies. Applications include the construction of parts or structures incorporating bi-metallics and gradient materials, seamlessly transitioning between multiple materials or mixtures determined by the desired end use performance. Use cases for this available technology includes more efficient heat exchanger components, enhanced wear and performance of consumer goods, and corrosion-resistant parts for oil and gas and defense applications.

The evolution of DED technology from being a multi-application workhorse today to continuing to redefine the landscape of manufacturing, innovation and technological advancements in the foreseeable future will continue to prove its value and need in manufacturing.

FormAlloy Technologies Inc.

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