Wallwork to lead international project for additive manufacturing smoothing

Wallwork Group have won European Commission funding.


Vacuum and plasma processing specialist, the Wallwork Group have won European Commission funding to support the rapid deployment of technology to smooth the surface of metal components produced by additive manufacturing. With the University of Manchester materials science department and partners in France and Italy, the Fast Track to Innovation Pilot programme will see technology move from proven prototype to live deployment in manufacturing plants.

The poor surface finish of additively manufactured metal components causes multiple challenges. Parts made by this process are often complex and therefore difficult and expensive to smooth using conventional mechanical techniques or hand finishing. This makes the process of removing excess material time-consuming and costly, undermining the economics of additive manufacturing and slowing the rate of adoption.

Wallwork, technical manager, Laurent Espitalier explained, “We hold key patents on an electrolytic plasma process that is able to remove excess material on even the most complex components effectively and economically. Energy use is relatively low, there are no toxic by-products and cycle times are far shorter than existing methods, so the process is very attractive, both commercially and environmentally.”

Wallwork Cambridge operate one of Europe’s largest facilities for the application of advanced micro thin coatings for aerospace, motorsport and medical applications using physical vapour deposition (PVD) and plasma enhanced chemical vapour deposition (PECVD) processes. The complex machines, software and control systems required for these processes are manufactured and developed by the company. This machine-build and applications experience facilitates rapid commercialisation, enabling the company to scale-up the patented process and build the bespoke machines required for economic plasma surface smoothing.

The programme of process development, machine build and live trials to prove the effectiveness of the system in manufacturing environments will last 29 months after which the partners anticipate they will have sufficient data to proceed to full commercial exploitation of the technique.

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