PALMS which stands for Plasma Additive Layer Manufacture Smoothing Technology, is funded by the European Commission under the Fast Tract to Innovation Pilot (FTIPilot-2016). The project involves using a novel electrochemical plasma technology to reduce the surface roughness of AM parts in order to achieve a smooth micro-finish.
5 Main project partners located in 3 European countries:
- Wallwork Heat Treatment United Kingdom
- University of Manchester United Kingdom
- Poly-Shape France
- Centro Ricerche Fiat Italy
- Wisildent Italy
Additive manufacturing (AM) offers unprecedented design freedom and the possibility to produce lightweight optimised components that are impossible to make with traditional techniques; or bespoke components that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive if produced in small volumes. Despite the significant progress made in AM, the surface roughness of parts produced by this method continues to be an issue.
Rough surface finish on AM parts causes wear, corrosion and fatigue, micro-cracks, poor tolerances, and is aesthetically displeasing. These negative characteristics often outweigh the positive ones of unlimited complexity of shapes and weight reduction benefits. Post-processing finishing methods exist for reducing roughness, but these can be costly and have limited effectiveness. As a result, the application of AM parts in industry is being constricted, particularly in the aerospace and medical industries, where the surface finish of components is highly critical.
An innovative cost-effective macro-polishing solution based on novel electrochemical plasma technology has been developed to enable the macro finish (10-50μm) AM parts to be rapidly treated in a highly controlled manner, leaving a uniform, smooth micro-finish (<0.1μm) hence resulting in considerably improved aesthetics and mechanical performance.
Our participation in the FTI programme will allow us to accelerate the commercialisation process for the PALMS TRL6 technology and undertake innovation from the demonstration stage through to market uptake within 32 months after project start. In doing so, we will capture up to 3% of the global market by year 5 post project, generating combined revenues of over €68million with an IRR return on investment of 1063%, and the creation of over 160 new jobs.
• Refine the PALMS process to enable the treatment of stainless steel and titanium alloys, with target removal rates of 0.5 – 5 µm/min
• Scale-up and bring to market readiness the novel AM part finishing system
• Design, refine and build the PALMS pilot plant of 100kW, capable of processing parts of surface area up to 1,000cm2, in less than 20 minutes
• Validate the PALMS job-shop service business model through successfully applying it to end-user partner components and 2 customer engagements by end of WP6
• Achieve TRL8 status for actual PALMS system - completed and qualified through test and demonstration
• Secure 2 commercial contracts to PALMS treat components by end of project
• Demonstrate the PALMS system with at least 10 prime customers across EU by end of project, with initial revenue generated from PALMS service business by month 32 after project start and 1st sales 3 months later
• Capture up to 3% of the annual global market (253 units) by year 5 post project, generating a combined revenues of €47.8million (>€23.9million profit), and also generate >€25million in revenue from the PALMS post-process service business model; combined we will create >160 new jobs by year 5 post project
• Increase the use of additive manufacturing and in turn reduce waste generated by traditional manufacturing techniques, manufacturing costs and carbon footprint.
• Reduce the use of environmentally harmful post-processing methods such as electropolishing thereby reducing the use of strong acids (pH 1-3), associated waste including the highly toxic hexavalent chromium
Figure 1: AM part - A320 nacelle hinge bracket Figure 2: PALMS finished/polished part
Figure 3: 3D-profilometry tests carried out on AM part before (19.1 µmRa) and after (0.98 µmRa) processing on PALMS TRL6