UK-based Wayland Additive is breaking new ground in the metal additive manufacturing industry by offering an innovative approach to electron beam manufacturing technology. Their solution, labeled the NeuBeam process, attempts to alleviate the longstanding issues they see with traditional electron beam melting (EBM). These issues have stymied broader adoption of EBM technologies, despite their benefits for specific applications and in terms of quality assurance and process monitoring.
Peter Hansford, CRO of Wayland Additive, highlighted the core differences between electron beam and laser-based additive manufacturing during this interview with 3D Printing Industry. “Electron beam and laser are fundamentally different in that one’s a hot process and one’s a cold process. There are limitations with both, not that one is better than the other. It’s just different,” Hansford explained.
Electron beam technologies are usually deployed for larger parts that would undergo significant stress during a laser process due to the heating process. However, electron beam hasn’t been widely adopted because “it’s a difficult process to manage,” partly due to effect of negative electrons on the loose powder. For twenty years, “a sticking plaster” has been put over this problem. Wayland’s new approach aims to circumvent these issues from the beginning.
According to Hansford, the NeuBeam process employs a technique where “the whole system is neutralised, which is completely different to every other EBM system out there.” This unique approach makes Wayland Additive the only company currently providing a neutral system in eBeam.
Wayland Additive’s first commercial NeuBeam metal Additive Manufacturing system, known as the Calibur3, was launched in March 2021.
The NeuBeam process lends itself well to applications with high-temperature or hard-to-process materials. “High-temperature materials, materials that are difficult to process, things that are either optically difficult, like copper reflective materials, or where the temperature is an issue and cracking,” Hansford explained. Their technology allows them to print fully dense, difficult-to-process materials, such as tungsten.
Market size for Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing
When asked about the potential market for this technology, Hansford expressed optimism about the addressable market’s growth. However, he also highlighted the challenges associated with introducing new technologies to compete with traditional manufacturing methods. Putting himself in the shoes of a potential manufacturing customer, Hansford said, “If I’m going to adopt additive and undergo a change in the process by which I make these parts, if I have to make compromises on material and the process is new, that becomes difficult.”
Despite these challenges, Wayland Additive believes it has the key to unlocking the market. They don’t see themselves competing with laser-based metal additive manufacturing but rather are looking for applications that can’t be solved today. With their vision and business projections, they foresee an accelerated growth trajectory, estimating that they could be a £150 million company by 2030.
Hansford also shared how their team, with over 150 years of combined expertise in industrial electron beam manufacturing, the semiconductor industry, high voltage, and additive sales and applications, contributed to Wayland’s success. This wealth of experience has been essential in overcoming challenges and realizing the company’s vision.
In the end, the core of Wayland Additive’s focus lies in its NeuBeam process, which aims to neutralize the electron beam. It is this process that the company believes could be a “game-changer in reducing the cost to build.” With these future developments in mind, Wayland Additive is looking at pushing the boundaries of additive manufacturing technology.
How does NeuBeam work?
Peter Hansford explained the process of creating parts using Wayland Additive’s EB technology, detailing the benefits of the NeuBeam process. Unlike traditional laser systems, where the laser moves from point to point, heating metal powder, which leads to rapid cooling and subsequent material stress, Wayland’s approach allows for a more controlled and modulated cooling process, reducing the risk of cracks in materials that can be tricky to work with, like tungsten and the nickel-based superalloy Inconel 247.
Wayland’s EB technology has a neutralized system that allows the beam to be used in multiple places and multiple times. In fact, 64 melt pools can be active simultaneously. This also allows for changes in the crystalline structure of the part being made, helping to achieve the specific metallurgical requirements needed. This includes the ability to scan an area in one direction and then scan it in a different direction, creating smaller crystals and breaking up the structure.
Hansford further emphasizes the addition of in-process monitoring, which involves high-speed cameras watching the process. This monitoring allows for precise temperature measurements, providing data about the interaction between the beam and the material. With this information, developers can fine-tune the process and develop new parameter sets.
Interestingly, the system is also described as an ‘open system,’ allowing users to explore new processing parameters without fear of causing significant issues or system failures. Hansford gives an example of developing parameter sets for tungsten, a process that was greatly expedited and simplified using Wayland’s system.
The in-process monitoring system also contributes to ensuring layer-wise quality assurance. “There are two aspects to in-process monitoring. One is quality assurance, and the other is material development and process development,” said Hansford. With the aid of artificial intelligence, Wayland is researching what makes a “good melt” in collaboration with universities.
Wayland’s work in this regard also includes efforts to better understand quality assurance standards for additive manufacturing, again in collaboration with universities. The goal is to maintain a high level of quality throughout the build, thereby minimizing the occurrence of defects.
How do different metal additive processes compare?
As the discussion continued, we delved into the intricacies of Electron Beam (EB) and Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) additive technologies and compared their nuances in terms of energy transfer, metallurgy, stress, and productivity.
Hansford elucidated how lasers, which consist of photons, present a different challenge in power delivery as their energy measurement is not straightforward. Whereas for Electron Beam the power delivery is largely kinetic, stirring up particles to induce melting. With lasers, measuring the power delivered to the print bed or how reflective the powder is is tricky. With LPBF, Hansford says, “You can sort of get an inkling of how much power has been delivered post-build with the parts and whether it’s sufficient or not.” He explains that while the process produces quality output, issues arise with how laser values and optics change over time, making precise control challenging.
In contrast, Hansford highlighted the electron beam technology’s advantages. With electrons, power delivery can be measured accurately as you can discern the voltage at the top and bottom of the system, thus understanding how much power is being transferred. Unlike lasers, electron beams can deliver energy to multiple points simultaneously, with up to multiple melt pools possible, allowing for slower and more controlled cooling. This makes the process efficient and less prone to thermal stress, as the part stays hot throughout the process. Hansford emphasized that Wayland’s electron beam technology excels at manufacturing large, bulky parts with minimal stress.
Lasers, despite their challenges, are widely used due to their easy accessibility and relatively simple assembly. However, their use presents limitations, especially with larger parts, as the process requires a significant substrate thickness and anchors to hold the part in place. These parts then require post-processing, such as heat treatment and support removal, increasing time and costs.
In contrast, Wayland’s process needs fewer supports, leading to longer cooldown times but relaxed, stress-free parts. Unlike laser systems, their method doesn’t result in a large, solid mass of unused material, the powder cake, saving significant amounts of time and resources. Hansford cites that as much as a third of build time could be spent on sintering the cake in certain processes, making Wayland’s approach a potentially more economical option.
Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing applications
Moving onto applications, Hansford cited medical and nuclear industries as examples. In the medical field, additive technologies can provide a cost advantage for companies manufacturing implants. If costs can be reduced by a third while simplifying post-processing, it presents a substantial saving and increased potential for AM processes.
For the nuclear industry, manufacturing elements like shielding or parts for fusion reactors presents an exciting possibility. Another potential application is in high-temperature blades for hydrogen-fueled turbines, which could be made using additive methods.
Other potential advancements include ceramics for hypersonics and even the electrification of heavy goods vehicles with unique copper windings for efficiency. Unlike lasers, which might require an alloy of copper, the electron beam method can use pure copper, enhancing conductivity.
Hansford, gave more detail about the importance of the initial investment by Longwall Ventures and other investors. This £3 million funding was a significant enabler, allowing the company to set up its first facility, design Calibur – its primary product, and build a team around it.
The financial injection offered the team the needed leeway to translate the proof of concept they’d developed with Innovate UK funding into a commercial product. The proceeds from subsequent funding rounds—a £5 million round and a more recent £4.6 million round – facilitated the scale-up into production and expansion into five facilities, each tailored to meet their varying needs.
Notably, the company has drawn interest from various investors across different rounds. These include Parkwalk Advisors, Metrea – a company specializing in procuring and finding solutions for military applications- and the National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF), the UK government’s corporate venture arm. NSSIF views Wayland Additive as strategic to the UK, with applications including use on the BAE Systems Tempest combat fighter scheduled to enter service in 2035.
NSSIF serves as the government’s hub of knowledge for venture financing and dual-use technology for both national security and defense. The organization combines the knowledge of the government, the security and defense sectors, as well as the technology and venture capital industries.
Metrea’s interest is specifically in providing solutions to the military, which could range from refueling jets to streamlining lengthy procurement processes. As Hansford notes, the continued investment has been instrumental in enabling Wayland to start shipping their product to customers, including the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and Canadian Exergy Solutions, where the system is in use for oil and gas applications. Wayland’s technology is also destined for Germany and Japan in the near future.
Addressing the company’s challenges, Hansford identifies supply chain issues, particularly shortages in chipsets and ceramics, as factors. Hansford also acknowledges that the platform, now in the hands of customers, is yet to be fully proven. “Technically, I think we’re on a good footing,” he said, “now we’re getting feedback, which is what we need.” The company expects the platform to mature quite dramatically in the next two to three years as they work closely with customers to tailor their approach to meet varying needs.
Concluding his thoughts, Hansford stresses that Wayland Additive isn’t about hyping up the technology but about problem-solving and building long-term relationships. The company isn’t just interested in making a product and trying to sell it; they’re interested in creating impactful solutions and pivoting their approach to meet customer needs. They welcome customers to propose potential improvements or innovations that would be beneficial to them. This kind of collaborative, customer-oriented approach is what Hansford believes will continue to drive Wayland Additive’s success.
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Featured image shows the Calibur3’s powder bed. Photo via Wayland Additive.