While at the recent RAPID show in Detroit, I had a chance to visit with Concept Laser. Among other subjects, one of the things we discussed was the trend of 3d printing large objects. The company was displaying one of the largest buildable parts at its booth.
“XXL”-sized 3D parts are currently a trend. At the core of Concept Laser’s large-format X line 1000R system, which was developed jointly with the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) in Aachen, are optics developed by ILT with a 1,000-watt laser. The jump from the 400-watt class into this new dimension represents a leap in terms of the component sizes and construction rates. The build envelope is one of the largest available on the market at 630 x 400 x 500 mm (24.8 x 15.75 x 19.68 in.).
The head of development at the company, Dr. Florian Bechmann, recently made several observations about the metals side of additive manufacturing.
–The main industries driving additive manufacturing progress, automotive, medical, and aerospace, not only demand high standards in terms of quality and choice of materials, but also in terms of increasing productivity. These customers require shorter construction times and more parts in a single build chamber. Customers are also interested in geometry, density, productivity, and above all – quality.
–Manufacturers who see the use of metal additive manufacturing increasing include NASA, the German Aerospace Center, Honeywell, Snecma, Aerojet/Rocketdyne and Astrium Space Transportation from the EADS Group. NASA engineers are even considering using additive manufacturing to produce components on the ISS – in orbit. The advantage of this is the ability to produce parts in space using CAD data, provided there is a sufficient stock of powder.
–Traditional process chains are being completely re-envisioned. Laser fused metal additively made parts are in demand as implants because their porous surfaces incorporate well into the body, yet also provide needed elasticity. One rising application is the affordable and rapid production of dental prosthetics from biocompatible materials.
–The offshore industry is considering installing laser-melting systems on drilling platforms, which would allow for independent, on-site production of certain components.
–Additive manufacturing with metals is even advantageous for retrofitting: worn-out turbine parts can be quickly and affordably regenerated. This kind of application is relevant in power plant engineering and aircraft construction. In this hybrid technique, layers of the exact same material can be applied additively to the existing part.
The X line 1000R is primarily intended for the automotive and aerospace industries. In terms of materials, the system works with aluminum to build components for lightweight construction. The goal is to replace cost-intensive sand and die casting applications in early development phases. The laser fusing process makes it possible to construct lightweight structures with high rigidity and weight-optimized geometries – with virtually no design restrictions.
For aerospace applications, the additive machine uses high-performance materials, such as titanium.
The possible construction speeds are up to 65 cm³/h, compared to other average build rates of 10-15 cm³/h.
The dimensions of the gear part made of aluminum are 474 x 367 x 480 mm (not including the height of the build platform). Concept Laser claims it is currently the largest metal component produced to date using the powder bed-based laser melting process.
The special thing about the machine is the stochastic exposure strategy in line with the “island principle.” The segments of each individual layer – so-called “islands” – are worked through in succession. The patented process ensures a significant reduction in stresses within the component, which allows solid and large-volume components to be generated with low warping.