Bolton University invests in second Xact Metal machine to expand capacity, improve teaching and help local businesses
What do you do after two years of success using the best value metal additive manufacturing machine in the business? If you are Bolton University, you expand your capacity and capability with an upgraded model.
Bolton University’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing has been using an Xact Metal XM200C machine since 2021, and has just chosen Laser Lines to provide an upgraded model, the XM200G. With a larger build volume and the ability to produce a part four times faster than its sibling, this powder bed fusion machine will improve Bolton University’s ability to teach the next generation of engineers about the benefits of additive manufacturing, while increasing capacity at its very popular new central department.
The XM200G will also be able to print more materials, being put to use initially on materials such as Scalmalloy, other experimental aluminiums and steel.
Easy to use and good value
Elliot Downs, Project Engineer at the centre for advanced manufacturing, explains what it is about the Xact Metal machines the centre finds so attractive. “I haven’t seen anything else that is as easy to use as the Xact Metal machines. They are exceptionally good value, which is very useful when budgets are tight. They are also very user-friendly.
“The support we have received from Laser Lines and Xact Metal has been excellent. Any questions we have or issues we encounter have been dealt with promptly, which is one of the reasons we felt comfortable increasing our investment in the Xact Metal ecosystem.
“The machines are small, making them safer to use. You don’t need to handle vast amounts of powder and you are not doing big material changeovers. The whole unit is very enclosed, whereas in larger machines you might need to pull filters and gaskets out that could be full of hazardous powder, which requires lots of care and specialist equipment.
“If we print a part using steel on an Xact Metal machine, the powders are nice and heavy and don’t make a mess. You can wear a standard P3 mask rather than a positive pressure mask, which makes the job much easier to deal with. Replacing a recoater is easy, as are quick adjustments to the job.
“Our new machine includes a glove box to further contain the powder and stop it from entering the atmosphere. This means we can demonstrate the machine fully in front of students without needing them to leave the area while we perform certain tasks in the interests of safety.”
The Centre for Advanced Manufacturing (CfAM) takes a holistic approach to additive manufacturing, supporting local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to adopt the technology, work which the university expects to be taken to the next level with its purchase of the XM200G.
“We are more than simply a university that owns some machines and can print some metal parts,” continues Elliot. “We start with how the powder is made and work on the entire development process, including the print parameters, printing best practices, designing for additive, as well as characterising the parts and materials that have been made.
“Our research into laser powder bed fusion uses Xact Metal machines as its basis. One of the areas we are about to embark on is novel feedstock development and parameterisation to see if we can look at materials in additive manufacturing from a different perspective. I am particularly excited to be starting my PhD on this topic very soon, which will give me a much deeper insight into optimising for additive manufacturing.
“Our Xact Metal 3D printer has been used for lots of different applications. We tend to run all of our stainless-steel work through our Xact Metal printer, which saves lots of time. By using additive rather than subtractive manufacturing, we minimise lengthy machining from billet to simple interface machining.
“We have produced drive gears for Formula Student race cars with an Xact Metal machine, along with lots of adapters, bosses and suspension parts. If you were to machine these, it would take weeks to set up. Xact Metal gives us excellent results in a fraction of the time.
“Other uses include producing parts for bespoke manufacturer Dot Motorcycles, providing prototypes that would have previously been die cast, along with complex end-use parts that were financially viable to produce on the Xact Metal machine.
“It is an exciting time to be researching additive manufacturing in Britain. We have pioneering technology here in the northwest, which provides an excellent counterpoint to the usual southern dominance. Our new Xact Metal XM200G will help us extend our leadership position and we can’t wait to unlock some new discoveries with it.”