Fabrisonic-Patented Solid-State Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing Welding Technology Bonds Layers


Fabrisonic LLC
, based in Columbus, Ohio, is a manufacturing technology company that utilizes additive and traditional subtractive manufacturing to provide a full range of 3D metal printing services. Of notable interest is the company’s use of a patented Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM) process that uses sound to merge layers of metal foil stock.

We caught up with Mark Norfolk, President and CEO, and Hilary Johnson, Production and Sales Engineer, to learn about Fabrisonic LLC and the company’s patented UAM process in an exclusive AMazing® conversation.

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AMazing®: Mark and Hilary thank you for your participation. Tell us about Fabrisonic LLC. When did the business first begin working with Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM)?  

Fabrisonic: Fabrisonic is a joint venture established to leverage the intellectual property of EWI, an Ohio based 501c(3) research organization, and Solidica, a Michigan based for-profit corporation. Ultrasonic metal welding has been around since the 1960’s, mainly used in small scale electronics. One sub-set of ultrasonic metal welding is ultrasonic seam welding, in which a rotary horn is used to weld two thin foils for applications such as sealing metallic bags. An engineer at Ford, Dr. Dawn White, had the idea to make this seam process into a continuous layer by layer printing technology.

Dr. White patented the technology as “Ultrasonic Consolidation” and formed a Michigan-based company named Solidica (2002) to commercialize the new process. Solidica developed fully automated machines that were sold under the Formation brand. The Formation systems were based off of a 1kW welding module which limited the materials that could be welded. This inability to weld relevant engineering materials limited initial commercial success.

In 2008, Solidica partnered with EWI, a non-profit welding research company in Ohio, to raise the ultrasonic power level in UAM machines from 1kW to over 9kW. The new patented design allows for not only higher available power but much higher weld forces.This has accelerated exciting new developments that allow the high power system to bond higher strength alloys such as high strength Aluminum, Stainless Steels, and Coppers. In 2011, the two parties formed a new joint venture, named Fabrisonic, to leverage their intellectual property and commercialize the technology. We are primarily commercializing by using Fabrisonic machines in house to 3D print custom parts for customers.

Video courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC

AMazing®: What’s unique about Fabrisonic’s UAM process from a technical perspective? What benefits does the process offer over traditional subtractive manufacturing or even welding? Is post-processing required?

Fabrisonic: The key difference between UAM and other metal AM technologies is that UAM uses a solid-state welding technology to bond layers. All other AM technologies take a feedstock, whether powder or wire, melt and re-solidify the metal in the area of choice.

In UAM, the joining is accomplished in the solid state; no melting occurs during the process. In fact, temperatures at the weld have been measured in aluminums at under 150 degrees Celsius. This is important for two reasons. First, by avoiding melting and staying below the transformation temperatures of most metals, the inherent mechanical properties of the incoming feedstock are not altered/reduced. Because of the low temperature, post processing is rarely needed. Fabrisonic actually does a lot of work in repair applications. We can build up material for repair on a heat treated component without effecting the underlying heat treated part.

The second benefit is the solid-state nature allows welding of dissimilar metals, embedding of sensors/electronics, and even inlay of non-metallic elements.

Other differences include:

  • The UAM process is both an additive and a subtractive process. Ultrasonic welding is used to build up material while an integrated CNC mill is used to machine off the slight excess and to create a dimensionally accurate part.
  • UAM is performed in open atmosphere requiring no special shielding.
  • UAM uses foil feedstock commercially available from numerous sources.

AMazing®: As the use of metal foil stock as a transition material is essential to the solid-state bonding process, what types of metal foil stock are available? What dissimilar materials can be bonded? What are some novel applications of bonded dissimilar materials?

Fabrisonic: The solid-state nature of the ultrasonic bonding process used in UAM permits joining of dissimilar metals without the formation of brittle intermetallics as seen in fusion processes. A wide range of material combinations have been successfully bonded using the technology; Al/Cu, Al/Fe and Al/Ti are routinely joined. Fabrisonic has also worked with exotic combinations such as Ta/Fe, Ag/Au and Ni/Stainless. In theory, with enough ultrasonic power the process should be able to bond any dissimilar metals.

Laminate Copper 50x Caption: The solid-state nature of the ultrasonic bonding process used in UAM permits joining of dissimilar metals without the formation of brittle intermetallics as seen in fusion processes. (Photo courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC)

Laminate Copper 50x: The solid-state nature of the ultrasonic bonding process used in UAM permits joining of dissimilar metals without the formation of brittle intermetallics as seen in fusion processes. (Photo courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC)

This capability leads to many exciting applications. For instance, by combining two or three metals into a solid plate, we can create mechanical properties (CTE –coefficient of thermal expansion, Modulus, Tensile Strength) that are not possible with a monolithic single metal. One product we have made for the US Army combines layers of Al and Ti to produce an armor with very specific engineered material properties that change through thickness.

In addition to metals, non-metallic materials can be embedded with the process. This generally occurs by sandwiching the given material between two metal layers.  Ceramics such as SiC and Al203 have been embedded for strengthening purposes.  Shape-memory alloys such as Nitinol and Galfenol have been embedded for sensing and actuation. In fact, the process has been used for encapsulating polymers and polymer fibers in a metallic substrate.

Embedding reinforcing members such as boron and silicon carbide fibers or stainless steel meshes into metal matrices is simple with Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing. Since the process can be interrupted and modified at any point, structural components can be augmented into any metal matrix to form superior, high performance composite structures. These advanced materials can be stiff and lightweight, the perfect combination for high stress, weight-critical environments.

Capabilities of printing parts that include dissimilar metals, embedded sensors/electronics, and/or intricate internal geometry. (Photo courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC)

Capabilities of printing parts that include dissimilar metals, embedded sensors/electronics, and/or intricate internal geometry. (Photo courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC)

AMazing®Fabrisonic produces a line of hybrid additive/subtractive production machines with patented welding heads including the SonicLayer R200, SonicLayer4000 and SonicLayer7200. How large of a build can each machine accommodate? What is a typical build rate for each machine? Is it possible to retrofit an existing 3 Axis CNC mill with a Fabrisonic welding head?

Fabrisonic: The SonicLayer 7200, currently Fabrisonic’s largest machine, has a work envelope of 72″x72″x36”. However, it is technically possible to exceed this volume. One of our research partners has actually mounted our welding apparatus to an existing aerospace fiber placement system having an envelope best described as “huge”.

Fabrisonic’s SonicLayer 7200 with a build envelope of 6’x6’x3’ (Photo courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC)

Fabrisonic’s SonicLayer 7200 with a build envelope of 72″x72″x36″ (Photo courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC)

The process size limitation is related to build rate.Typical powder based systems build at 1-2 in3/hr. UAM is generally an order of magnitude faster at 15-20 in3/hr. When printing solid components completely using UAM it can take days to build parts feet x feet x inches. However, for simple cladding of a significant area, it can be covered in an hour. Thus, the dimensions of custom application machines are governed closely be the intended application.

All of our production machines start their life as an off-the-shelf 3-axis CNC mill to which we retrofit our welding system. All of our background technology is optimized for use with a Siemens 840D controller. Theoretically, we could add the welding technology to any CNC mill. From a practical standpoint, it is most cost effective to retrofit a large format CNC (CAT 50/HSK 120) that already runs a Siemens 840D.  

AMazing®What are some benefits of incorporating additive and subtractive technologies in one machine center? How tight a tolerance can Fabrisonic’s hybrid additive/subtractive machine centers hold?

Fabrisonic: Since SonicLayer machines are based off of commercial 3-axis CNC mills, Fabrisonic can achieve the same surface finish as traditional CNC machining. On many parts, Fabrisonic has held tolerances of +/- .001”.

Another important consideration is the fact that parts coming out of a SonicLayer machine are completely finished. By combining additive and subtractive in one machine, the parts come out with no further post processing required (milling, heat treat, etc).  From a tolerance standpoint, this is also helpful as you typically lose accuracy every time you move a part from one operation to another.

AMazing®What other services does Fabrisonic provide? What industries does Fabrisonic’s technologies best serve?

Fabrisonic: UAM is a commercially available manufacturing method. Fabrisonic has three UAM machines on site that are used for customer production runs as well as development R&D. Fabrisonic’s main business is the production of custom parts and materials for our customer base. There are plans for adding additional machine capacity in 2014.  In addition to the parts business, Fabrisonic does sell machines for custom applications.

AMazing®: With the additive manufacturing (AM) industry evolving so quickly, what advances can we expect to see in Fabrisonic’s patented UAM technology in the next few years?

Fabrisonic: We are working on several new areas:

  1. We are currently building a new welding apparatus out of ceramics. This should allow us to bring higher powers to alloys such as Titanium, Inconel and even refractory metals.
  2. We are building a new rotary axis for our large SonicLayer 7200. This will allow us to print axially for parts such as pipes, cones, and spheres.
  3. We just won several NASA SBIRs to expand our development in a) heat exchangers 2) embedded electronic sensors, and 3) high strength alloys such as Inconel.

This concludes our interview. Thank you very much for your participation. We are very grateful for the opportunity to learn about Fabrisonic and the company’s fascinating UAM technology.

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About Mark Norfolk
With over a decade of experience in manufacturing, R&D, and shop floor management, Mr. Norfolk leads Fabrisonic in the commercialization of Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM) Technology. Mr. Norfolk led EWI’s development and research into UAM for four years leading up to the inception of Fabrisonic and has been with the company ever since. Prior to joining EWI, Mr. Norfolk held numerous manufacturing and management positions at Deere & Company in Moline, II. Mr. Norfolk holds an MBA from The University of Iowa and a Bachelor’s of Science in Welding Engineering from The Ohio State University.

About Hilary Johnson
Hilary Johnson is a Production and Sales Engineer for Fabrisonic. Prior to joining Fabrisonic, Ms. Johnson was in the marketing and graphic design industry. She holds an MBA and a Bachelor’s of Business Administration, focus in marketing, from The University of Toledo and an Associates in Mechanical Engineering from Columbus State.

About Fabrisonic, LLC
Fabrisonic LLC is an innovative manufacturing technology company. Fabrisonic provides 3D metal printing services in a wide range of metals through the patented ultrasonic additive manufacturing process. As a technology focused small business, Fabrisonic has the technical capability and agility needed for the emerging fast-paced manufacturing world. Fabrisonic’s commitment to quality is evidenced through several quality awards from industrial customers. http://fabrisonic.com

Contact:
Fabrisonic, LLC
www.fabrisonic.com
info@fabrisonic.com
614-688-5197

(Top photo)-Micro heat exchangers created using Fabrisonic’s hybrid additive/subtractive process. (Photo courtesy of Fabrisonic LLC)

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