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America Makes Announces Awardee of Directed Project Opportunity on the Acceleration of Large Scale Additive Manufacturing

America Makes is proud to announce the awardee of a Directed Project Opportunity on the acceleration of large scale additive manufacturing (ALSAM) funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Manufacturing and Industrial Base Technology Division. Driven by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), America Makes awarded $2.1M in AFRL funding with at least $525K in matching funds from the awarded project team for total funding worth roughly $2.6M.

Subject to the finalization of all contractual details and requirements, the selected America Makes ALSAM Directed Project Opportunity Awardee is GE Global Research, in conjunction with the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), and GE Additive.

“America Makes and AFRL are pleased to announce GE Global Research as the ALSAM Directed Project Opportunity awardee,” said Rob Gorham, America Makes Executive Director. “We are grateful for the continued support and funding from AFRL and extend our congratulations to the GE Global Research team. We believe that GE Global Research, ARL at Penn State, and GE Additive outlined the best approach to developing an open source, multi-laser manufacturing machine and research platform. We look forward to the ALSAM project getting underway and the anticipated, game-changing outcomes that will address the immediate and critical needs within the U.S. Air Force and defense industry.”

The objective of the ALSAM Directed Project Opportunity is to overcome known and distinct shortcomings of Selective Laser Melting (SLM) additive manufacturing (AM) that are limiting the wider adoption of the technology for production. The focus of the ALSAM Directed Project is of particular interest to AFRL as the value of SLM technology is great for producing defense components with complex shapes made from a multitude of alloys, featuring high mechanical properties and fine microstructures. However, the small build volumes and lengthy production times of single laser SLM machines are hindering their use. While single-laser SLM machines are entering the market with increased build volumes, a strategy for developing multi-laser solutions is needed.

Through the ALSAM Directed Project, AFRL specifically seeks an open source, multi-laser manufacturing research platform to assist in the identification of best practices and quantify part production efficiency that can be realized with multi-laser SLM machines. AFRL requires a flexible platform to conduct manufacturing relevant, controlled experiments into multi- or many laser approaches, offering possible quality improvements for challenging alloys through tailored thermal management approaches.

GE Global Research and its team will integrate the results of three previous America Makes Programs into a commercially-available Powder Bed Fusion Additive Manufacturing (PBFAM) machine and deliver the machine to America Makes. The team will work in coordination with a parallel DoD-funded project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Optimized Multi-Beam Approach for Powder Bed Fusion, for critical reviews of the machine and experimentation. By building upon the work of these previous America Makes Programs and parallel LLNL DoD project, GE Global Research anticipates that the key deliverable of the Directed Project Opportunity, the ALSAM Platform, will lead to production efficiency and scalability for the identification of best practices for scan speed, hatch spacing, power, and stitching, among numerous other process parameters. The ALSAM Platform will also be a flexible resource in that it will be controlled with open-source software for both scanpath generation and machine control, enabling tailored thermal management experiments, which will prove useful for difficult-to-weld alloys.

Additionally, the deployment of an ALSAM Platform will demonstrate the technology in a production-representative environment, advancing the Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) from a MRL6 of the open system to MRL7. The availability of the open machine will enable subsequent research programs aimed at achieving MRL8 by identifying specific process parameters, multi-laser strategies, feedback strategies, and sensors to be validated prior to moving to a pilot line.

“With the award of the America Makes ALSAM Directed Project to GE Global Research and its partners, as an industry, we are much closer toward having the mainstream ability to produce large scale components through multi-laser interaction,” said John Wilczynski, America Makes Technology Director. “As a result, we will be able to meet the needs of not only the U.S. Air Force and other military branches, but also the energy and automotive industries as well.”

The anticipated start date of the project is January 2019.