Fieldlab RAMLAB has been working since 2016 to facilitate the further development and application of 3D metal printing. It uses welding robots from Valk Welding to 3D-print metal parts. Purchasing such a welding robot is a large and risky investment for many companies. After all, it is uncertain whether the material properties and shapes can be achieved with the technology. At the fieldlab, companies can therefore gain insight and experience together with specialists, before proceeding to purchase. Meanwhile, the first customer for the WAAM cell is a fact. Vallourec, a large multinational in the oil and gas industry, has purchased a custom welding robot with accompanying software from RAMLAB.
Fieldlab RAMLAB has been successfully working on the further development and applicability of 3D metal printing in recent years. The technology used is called Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM). With a welding robot, a shape is printed by welding layer by layer. This often involves products in small series or even single pieces. For example, a ship’s propeller or a mould that is being repaired.
In a previous SMITZH project, RAMLAB already laid the foundation for the optimization of material properties and parts using monitoring and control. In the most recently completed project, the fieldlab managed to prove that with the right sensors, cameras and software, the 3D printing process can be fully automated and error-free. For the application at Vallourec, a 3D scanner and temperature sensor are added to the welding robot.
Vincent Wegener, RAMLAB: “With MaxQ, our new monitoring and control system, we can run the welding robot 24/7 autonomously. Last summer we tested until all bugs were solved and we had control over the quality. With this, Vallourec can now run fully automated production at their location in Singapore.”
RAMLAB is one of many fieldlabs in our region. They form an important asset in our innovation-infrastructure. Explore more here.
Different shapes and materials
The big challenge with 3D metal printing in small quantities is to determine for each product whether the shape is feasible and which materials are suitable. Vallourec sells tubular components for the transport of oil and gas. These parts must be able to withstand high pressure, which requires a lot of testing beforehand.
Jonathan Moulin, Vallourec: “We have redesigned the most commonly used components for 3D printing and stored them in a digital warehouse, from which all production sites worldwide can download the desired files.”
RAMLAB processes all the research into a materials database with data on material types, properties and the effect when certain materials are combined. It is therefore more cost-effective for companies to make use of the expertise and facilities available at RAMLAB than to do all the research themselves.
Unique position globally
Vallourec is a large multinational company. The welding robot with RAMLAB’s MaxQ system will get a place in Singapore. The fact that a party such as Vallourec seeks out our region in order to achieve a certified 3D printed part is related to the unique expertise that fieldlab RAMLAB possesses. RAMLAB is the first European fieldlab that has proven to be able to print voluminous parts for industrial applications with WAAM technology. RAMLAB wants to make it possible for all (SME) production sites in the world to print industrial components on demand.
Jonathan Moulin, Vallourec: “Throughout the value chain, every stage costs money and time. There is also the risk that products are not in stock. Printing on-site with the WAAM technology optimized by RAMLAB and Valk Welding offers a great solution for this.”
Vincent Wegener, RAMLAB: “The MaxQ system is fully integrated into the cell of Valk Welding. It is precisely in this cooperation that our strength lies and which makes us unique in Europe.”