Ukrainian technological start-up xBeam 3D Metal Printing has developed a unique technology and equipment for 3D printing with titanium and other metals

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Violeta Moskalu, editor in chief (Global Ukraine News)

3D printing technologies called also as Additive Manufacturing have been known for the past 30 years, since they were first used in prototyping, then for production of testing parts and units for cars, aircrafts, engines, etc. The beginning of the 2000s has seen a rapid development of 3D printing in industrial production. The technology enables prompt customized one-off production, some experts have even called this trend «The Third Industrial Revolution». Particular efforts were expended on 3D metal printing, since metals are the basic construction material in the industry.

From then onwards, many companies started developing 3D printing equipment, and many funds were invested in this field. But time has proven that unfortunately there is no revolution in the industry, mainly due to the high cost of the final products. In fact, the revolution has occurred in opportunities, but it is valid only for the chosen ones, because the real demand is still limited due to the high operating costs and special requirements to form of materials used for 3D printing.

Breakthrough technology xBeam 3D Metal Printing, developed by Ukrainian company Chervona Hvilya, makes it possible to solve most of these issues. In particular, easy implementation and handling helped this technology to dramatically reduce the cost of metal products made by 3D printing. The Ukrainian inventors made this technology affordable for the general industrial users.

For this reason we can state, that xBeam 3D Metal Printing is an extremely exciting Ukrainian innovation project that is developing unique technology and equipment for 3D metal printing. This Ukrainian technological start-up is evolving fast, the company has already proven its technical and technological capabilities and demonstrated an overall production efficiency of its invention. The capabilities of this unique technology have already attracted a number of reputable global technological companies.

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Developers have already received a European Union grant under the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Support Program in the framework of Horizon 2020 project. The team also won the second stage of the Climate Innovative Vouchers Program, in the frame work of which ten Ukrainian companies received € 400,000 from the EU and the EBRD for the development of breakthrough climatic and resource-saving innovations.According to the experts, the potential of this project is much larger than it was primarily envisaged by the project for small business and it can grow into a powerful world-class business.

Certainly such task requires relevant resources – financial and human (including qualified staff in the 3D printing field, which currently Ukraine is lacking), organizational, legal and also lobbying capacities.

This technology, as well as most of Ukrainian projects, is remarkable primarily by the creativity and beauty of the technical idea constituting technological uniqueness and technical simplicity of implementation. Of course, this does not mean at all that the development was an easy process. In fact, it took several decades to develop the electron-beam technologies in Ukraine, it involved associated sciences and was backed by engineering creativity.

«The cornerstone of the technology is that our electron guns can directly generate an electron beam of virtually an arbitrary shape. Our 3D printing technology provides for generation of an electron beam in a shape of hollow inverted cone. When it crisscrosses, the magic glow of ionized gas forms the letter «x». Hence the name of the technology – xBeam 3D Metal Printing», – says Dmytro Kovalchuk, the owner and director of JSC NVO Chervona Hvilya company.

The possibility of generating a hollow conic electron beam enables the wire-like consumable material to be directed along the axis of this beam into the apex of this cone, where it is evenly melted and then controllably deposited on a substrate to form a layer of solidified metal. Thus the xBeam 3D Metal Printing technology creates virtually ideal conditions for directing and forming a complex three-dimensional metal parts by layer upon layer deposition.

At the same time, the technology allows to use a standard industrial wire as a consumable material, which is affordable and cheaper, in comparison with materials used by other 3D printing technologies.The main practical benefit of xBeam 3D Metal Printing is an opportunity to build fairly thin and precise product walls, which are only slightly thicker than the diameter of the used wire. During the final processing of parts this technology enables to remove less than 1 mm of each wall, which makes the final printed product very accurate, whereas the other technologies have to remove approximately 3-5 mm from each side of wall.

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«Thus, we can very thoroughly and very accurately build three-dimensional parts with minimum metal loss, and this is realized with the help of user-friendly equipment. All these factors are the key to a revolutionary decrease in manufacturing cost. We have an opportunity to make our technology accessible for the general industrial users, to enable usage of diverse expandable metals, which are the main structural element for the industry», – added the director of the company.

In 1991 Dmytro Kovalchuk graduated from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Aerophysics and Space Research Department, having received the Master of Science degree in Physical Metallurgy. He was working for some time for Kyiv Paton Electrical Welding Institute, where he was involved in development of electron-beam technologies, primarily for the application in the industrial manufacturing of titanium alloys and other refractory metals. As a matter of fact, Chervona Hvilya company is more than 20 years old. In the second half of 1990s, they managed to bring to the market the titanium ingots which were totally produced of titanium scrap by means of electron-beam remelting, which significantly reduced the cost of production. This helped them to win customers among the world’s leading companies.

«When titanium industry world leaders recognized the competitive advantages of electron beam technology for titanium production, the world has seen boom in construction of electron beam melting furnaces, and we concentrated our entire attention and resources on the development of such complete equipment. We managed to put together a powerful team of experienced engineers and designers, creative scientists and technologists, who were able to generate the best technical and technological solutions for the assigned tasks. In particular, our team of developers created electron beam guns with a power of up to 600 kW, which was also realized by only two German companies apart from us. One EB gun like this one can melt up to one ton of titanium per hour», – says Mr. Kovalchuk.

The innovators have come up with xBeam 3D Metal Printing idea a little more than 3 years ago. The first pilot installation to test this idea was launched in spring of 2016. During this time, it demonstrated not only the technical ability to build accurate product walls, but also to ensure the high quality of manufactured products, including good metal structure of the 3D printed material, proper mechanical properties and chemical composition, which is extremely important for aerospace and other industries. All these indicators not only meet the requirements of the actual international standards for such materials, but also exceed the properties of materials, obtained by means of available alternative 3D printed technologies.

The first advantage of this technology is comparatively low material consumption for complex parts production. The aerospace industry is using a so-called «buy-to-fly ratio», which is defined as the ratio between the amounts of the raw semi-product material to be used in order to get one kg of finished product. When producing complex parts by traditional mechanical processing methods from standard semi-products (forgings, plates, bars etc.), this indicator can reach up to 20:1, that is, for the production of each useful kg – the material loss in waste is up to 19 kg. xBeam 3D Metal Printing buy-to-fly ratio generally does not exceed 2:1, while in other existing 3D printing technologies it is equal to at least 3-5:1. This means we are able to decrease the waste amount, ensure more efficient use of available expensive materials, reduce the processing time for production of final products, which all together is a significant part of production cost balance.

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«From more practical side, for example, we can produce parts for aircrafts: structural elements of the wings and tail, the parts for fixing engines and landing gears, brackets for doors and seats, etc. They need to be strong and light, which can be achieved with the right design and the use of titanium. From the moment we informed the industrial community about our development, the world’s largest developers and aircraft manufacturers were interested first», – says Dmytro Kovalchuk on the specific application of the technology.

It is worth mentioning the perspectives of using xBeam 3D Metal Printing technology in space researches, as fare as it is fully operational in zero-gravity state, as well as in open space and on the surface of the Moon and the Mars. In this case, a clear advantage is the light weight of the electron beam gun – only a few kilos, which reduces the cost of bringing the device to orbit (output of one kilogram of weight to the orbit costs up to $ 20,000 per kg), the device is also operational at a low accelerating voltage, which protects the employees from X-rays.

«Additionally, the gun has a cathode as an electron source, this is a metal part, on surface of which electrons are emitted under the influence of certain physical processes, as a consequence – an electron beam is formed. Our cathode is made of cheap aluminum and, importantly, it can be infinitely restored both on the ground and in orbit. Considering all the mentioned points in terms of space applications, our technology is unique – a real breakthrough», – added the project manager.

The xBeam 3D Metal Printing team is currently working on prototype of serial laboratory and industrial equipment, which should cost not more than 250 thousand and 500 thousand euros, respectively, and eventually the price will be further decreased. If to compare it with prices on existing 3D metal printers, the cheapest low-duty systems cost at least half a million euros. It is clear, that cheaper price of equipment and its maintenance contributes to the lower cost of 3D printing, providing a significant advantage to xBeam 3D Metal Printing.

The unique innovative technology of xBeam 3D Metal Printing is protected by the patent of Ukraine with the extended PCT system, which covers more than 150 countries, also the company applies for USA, Europe and China. The production technology of xBeam 3D Metal Printing and 3D metal printers of xBeam family promises to be reliable and efficient equipment for the prompt and high quality production of complex 3D units and can be used in various scientific researches. GU

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