Spanish collaboration develops unique process to 3D print copper induction coils

Spanish company GH Induction has teamed up with additive manufacturing specialists Aidimme to 3D print copper induction coils.

The two companies, both based in Valencia, have together developed a unique system for 3D printing copper coils. The process involves an electron beam melting (EBM) machine which is an additive manufacturing process that uses an electron beam to melt wire or powder into specified shapes. The novel copper production method has now been implemented by automotive companies Renault and Volvo.

The breakthrough is significant as copper is notoriously difficult to 3D print. This is due to its thermal conductivity, which is also the characteristic that makes it so desirable to fabricate with. Albuquerque company Optomec has recently announced it has developed copper inks to 3D print electronics in its Aerosol Jet machine. However this is at a much smaller scale to GH Induction’s EBM method.

Aidimme's José Ramón Blasco working in the lab with Arcam EBM 3D printer in the background. Photo via Vicent Bosch.
Aidimme’s José Ramón Blasco working in the lab with an Arcam EBM 3D printer in the background. Photo via Vicent Bosch.

What is induction heating?

Induction heating is the process of heating conductive materials, mainly metal, with electromagnetic currents. The process is beneficial as it allows a controlled, fast, repeatable process for heating metal parts. By using electromagnetic currents, the process is consistent and also more environmentally friendly as it does not involve direct heating of metals. Induction heating is used in a wide range of industrial applications such as welding, brazing, forging, cooking and is even used in injection molding machinery.

GH Induction is a leading company in the induction heating industry and recently turned to 3D printing as a more suitable production method. By partnering with Aidimme, the two companies have configured a unique EBM method to fabricate copper parts. Using copper powder as feedstock, the EBM machine is able to fabricate parts with up to 60 microns layer thickness.

A copper induction coil heating a metal bar. Image via GH Induction.
A copper induction coil heating a metal bar. Image via GH Induction.

Benefits of 3D printed coils 

Currently, induction coils do not have exceptionally long life spans since every time they heat and cool, the welded joints are damaged. By 3D printing the copper parts, there is no need to weld which gives the coils greater strength and longer life. According to GH Induction, the process can double or even triple the life cycle of the parts.

Additionally, the 3D printing process allows for advanced possibilities in terms of design. The team have been able to fabricate the coils with intricate channels for water cooling inside. 3D printing internal cooling channels in metal parts has also been used by university researchers in Germany to drastically improve the function of a bone drill.

Some of the early copper 3D printed coils. Image via GH Induction.
Some of the early copper 3D printed coils. Image via GH Induction.

Unique printing system

Using the tailored 3D printer, the Spanish additive manufacturing company print batches of 12 to 16 copper coils. Aidimme’s head of new manufacturing processes, José Ramón Blasco explains “it does not make sense to make a single piece of production.” Blasco believes the process is unique in that “there is no one [else] who can do it industrially.”

Another benefit of the 3D printing technique is an increase in production and speed. Blasco explains the company is “able to produce between 16 and 24 pieces per week,” for GH Induction.

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Featured image shows one of the 3D printed copper parts. Image via Vincent Bosch.