Boeing made another investment in additive manufacturing, this time with the intent of producing higher volume of multi-metal parts faster.
Boeing HorizonX Ventures invested an undisclosed amount in Digital Alloys, which created Joule Printing, a metal additive manufacturing technology that uses metal in wire form and high deposition rates to produce the parts. The investment was part of a $12.9 million Series B financing led by G20 Ventures and included other companies. Boeing and Digital Alloys did not disclose the exact investment but Boeing said it “was a minority investor in this round.”
Digital Alloys holds two patents for Joule Printing, which can use multiple metals into a single part. This could enable new parts designs and improved thermal, electric and mechanical properties. This printing process is “similar to resistive welding and does not result in fully melting the material through external energy sources like lasers, e-beams, or electric arcs. As such, it has the potential to print alloys that have been a challenge with existing printing techniques, but with less energy and a lower machine complexity,” says Boeing.
Joule Printing solves “three big problems that are gating the use of metal printing and production:” production costs, printing speeds and complexity, says Duncan McCallum, Digital Alloy’s CEO.
The lower costs are possible due to less raw material wasted because “virtually all of the wire used goes into the part,” says McCallum.
Unlike thermal time constraints with power-based additive manufacturing, with Joule, “We’re touching the wire to the part and we’re melting the wire by putting current through the part, so it’s like a coil in a toaster. The benefit of that approach is that the current is inside the wire so it’s heating the wire from within,” says McCallum. This allows the process to be faster.
The company’s goal by the end of the year is to print at a rate of 5-10 kg per hour, depending on the metal. It’s printing titanium at 0.5 kg per hour and tool steel at about 1 kg per hour.
In addition to Digital Alloys, this year Boeing also has invested in Morf3D, another metal-based additive company, and launched a five-year collaboration with Oerlikon to create standard titanium additive manufacturing processes. Boeing says these activities “will ultimately help us build and scale our capabilities to print metal aerospace parts that meet Boeing’s stringent safety requirements.”