3D Printers

China develops ZcompleX, an electron beam additive manufacturing machine to rival Sciaky

Chinese company Xi’an ZhiRong has unveiled a new electron beam additive manufacturing (EBAM) machine. The ZcompleX uses an electron beam approach to additive manufacturing which involves the use of metal wire feedstock.

Until now, Chicago-based company Sciaky has been the sole developer of EBAM machinery, which it regards as the world’s fastest metal 3D printing process.

3D printed part from the ZcompleX.
3D printed part from the ZcompleX.

Sciaky Inc.

According to Sciaky, its EBAM technology is a “one-of-a-kind metal additive manufacturing technology that…excels at producing large-scale, high-value metal parts”. The process is utilized in a principal 110 System machine, which has been used to make components for submarines, and Airbus airplanes.

The method uses an electron beam to deposit metal layer-by-layer and create a 3D structure, similar to the process of FDM.

Illustration of Sciaky's EBAM process. Image via Sciaky.
Illustration of Sciaky’s EBAM process. Image via Sciaky.

ZcompleX electron beam additive manufacturing

Xi’an ZhiRong refers to its EBAM technique as “EBVF3 vector technology” and the process can be seen in operation in a video from China’s CCTV+ network (embedded below).

The ZcompleX 3D printer has a vacuumed chamber and a maximum build size of 1000 x 600 x 500 mm. It also utilizes a 15kW electron beam to form metal 3D structures. Guo Guangyao, head of Xi’an ZhiRong, says,

The modeling process happens in a vacuum environment, so no pores will generate during productions of the metal parts, and compactness of the products can reach 100 percent. In this way, fatigue-resistance properties of the metal parts will be enhanced greatly. The system can be used to produce parts for large frames or beam structures, such as some storage tanks for satellites or fuel tanks for carrier rockets,

Released photos of parts produced in the ZcompleX have undergone post-processing to remove the visible layers.

Post-processed part produced by the ZcompleX.
Post-processed part produced by the ZcompleX.

What is additionally remarkable about the ZcompleX machine is that Xi’an ZhiRong has applied for 20 patents relating to the technology inside it. This means that the company could be protecting some of the technology relating to electron beam additive manufacturing.

Full details of these patents are so far under wraps, so it will be interesting to see the response once the specifics become public.

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Featured image the ZcompleX machine.