Remet S.A. – a leading European manufacturer of steel structures used in the oil and gas mining industry, opened a laboratory specializing in the additive manufacturing of prototypes made in metal 3D printing technology. Located in Stalowa Wola, Poland, the company has installed one of the most modern 3D printers on the metal market – DMP Flex 350 by 3D Systems, the revolutionary metallic powder atomizer ATO Lab and a whole range of devices and machines supporting additive production and running comprehensive research on materials and manufacturing processes. The project has been orchestrated by 3D Lab Ltd. – a leading distributor of industrial 3D printers in Poland and manufacturer of ATO Lab metal atomizers.
Remet has been on the market for over 10 years, specializing in the production of solutions used to extract oil and gas from the bottom of the seas and oceans. The end users of the company’s products are the largest mining companies in the world, such as BP, Statoil, GE Oil & Gas or ExxonMobil. It has 4 production halls, in which a total of 200 employees work. The metal laboratory called „Remet Metal Labs” which was just launched, is a new enterprise, focused on additive manufacturing and research.
The idea goes back to 2017 when a crisis broke out in the mining industry, prompting the company to seek alternative sources of income. This is how Arthur Hallen – president and co-owner of REMET, describes it:
The genesis of Remet Metal Labs dates back to 2017 and the crisis that has appeared in the mining industry. We were looking for a long-term alternative to our main business, which in the future could compensate for a potential, deeper crisis in the mining industry. The first idea concerned precise machining, which was later extended to additive manufacturing. We perceive this as the future – both mining industry and completely new clients from the areospace or automotive sectors are interested in additive technologies.
Looking for the best solutions for the needs to start the additive production, Remet representatives visited the Formnext trade fair in Frankfurt am Main in 2017, where the ATO Lab atomizer, manufactured by 3D Lab, was presented for the first time. During the talks, representatives of both companies agreed to a working sketch of the entire project, where the research and development and production process begins with the creation of a metal alloy with its own proprietary chemical composition, or atomization of other standard alloys for the needs of current additive production.
Atomizer is the key element of the whole enterprise that makes the project unique and special. Usually, laboratories and manufacturing companies base their activities on standard materials supplied by machine manufacturers or authorized metal powder manufacturers. Thanks to ATO Lab, users can create their own materials – be it through experiments and research, or by melting their metals (e.g. from production residues) and forming rods that go to atomization.
Remet Metal Labs
The Remet Laboratory is located in one of the production halls but is completely separated from the typical industrial production, resembling the interior of medical or pharmaceutical laboratories. It is packed with the high class equipment – from computers on which projects are created and individual studies are carried out, through post-processing and heat treatment equipment, to the ATO Lab atomizer and metal printer – 3D Systems DMP Flex 350.
Atomization – the production of own metal materials
Remet Metal Labs was created in order to create details using the additive method based on non-standard metal alloys created on the customer’s request – creating alloys with non-standard chemical compositions or their meticulous laboratory analysis. Starting from examining the lowest content of elements for a given alloy grade, up to the highest, which translates into their mechanical or chemical properties.
This is where the material production stage begins, which is used during later stage – the 3D printing. The atomizer is fitted with an ultrasonic screen enabling the separation of powders of a selected fraction. Engineers can choose whether they want to use a powder with a smaller grain distribution and more homogeneous, or to produce it in very different fractions; check how the size of the fraction affects the speed of powder melting and the structural and strength properties of the details?
Next to the atomizer stands large washer in which the elements of the atomizer are bathed in isopropyl alcohol, cleaning them from the remains of the atomized powder. This ensures the cleanliness of the mixtures produced when the material changes.
3D printing – testing ideas at the application level
After sifting and finding the best fraction of a given powder, the stage of refining 3D printing parameters for its remelting, i.e. 3D printing, follows. The 3D Systems DMP 350 Flex machine enables quick retooling in up to 2 hours, which gives great flexibility during testing. It is easy to check the diverse chemical compositions of powders. One of the main advantages of this concept is the open laser parameter control system in which the 3D printer is equipped.
This functionality enables machine to produce components with a non-standard distribution of microstructures obtained by means of control in selected points and areas by means of its power. The software allows to design a map where engineer chooses which areas will be fused with what power. Thanks to this, the final detail will have several properties combined, e.g. in one area it will be more flexible and in other it will be harder.
DMP 350 Flex has very favorable fusion conditions due to the low oxygen content inside the working chamber. This was one of the main requirements Remet set for the system supplier in order to obtain high-purity details. This allows to avoid defects and impurities in the form of oxides in the 3D printing process. The laboratory is also equipped with an additional screening and powder recovery station, which allows the use of the same, unmelted powder in subsequent works.
After completing the 3D printing process, the detail has to be separated from the surface of 3D printer’s table, the supports must be removed, and additional work for cleaning any impurities and smoothing its surface is needed. A dedicated machines and tool kits are used for this.
The next stage is heat treatment and optional increase of the size of the target product by laser welding. Laboratory employees can create larger assemblies consisting of several smaller modules, which gives greater application possibilities.
Heat treatment in the furnace allows changes in the properties of materials and removal of stresses created during 3D printing, which avoids the occurrence of deformation of details. The furnace was created for Remet’s individual order – it enables processing at temperatures up to 1200°C and is equipped with protective atmospheres that allow for high purity of the process. Surface peroxidation and the formation of impurities are avoided.
Additional research and conclusions
Tests and measurements are carried out on a scanning microscope, which allows the testing of both powder and finished parts. The chemical composition, particle size, grain and fraction distribution, and roughness can be examined. The microscope has an enlarged scanning chamber up to 100 x 100 mm, which is one of the larger working areas that are available on the market. In some cases, this allows you to examine the entire printout, because most of the details of the metals produced in the 3D printing technology on the market close in these dimensions.
In addition, Remet has two unique software research systems: engineers can examine samples and entire details by non-destructive methods, eg. the linear deformation module – the Young’s module, on the basis of wave velocity measurement. Young’s modulus tested on prototypes can illustrate its ability to meet strength requirements and whether the assumed load will damage the structure. The second method allows to conduct tests of natural frequencies and “frequency response” – comprehensively evaluate many parameters at once. In total, geometry, chemical composition, state of stress and internal defects can be examined as the natural frequency or as the sound wave frequency.
The final stage of testing is checking the moisture content of powders and the density of materials, which in total will ensure the high quality of the material and the resulting details.