Dr. Wilhelm Meiners of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) explains: "The main advantage of SLM compared to other generative processes is the use of metal materials such as AlSi10Mg, a typical casting alloy, or TiAl6V4, a typical implant material." As a result of the melting process, the work piece has nearly 100% of the density and, thus, the same strength as the original material, which is not the case when the material beads are "baked" together in sintering. According to Meiners, "as a result, the mechanical properties of SLM components are in the same range as the material specifications." And laser metal deposition can be used for repairs.
Until lately, the more complex the product and the smaller the batch size, the more expensive it is to produce. However, laser-based additive manufacturing systems can create a product directly from CAD data using laser light, eliminating the time and cost necessary to produce conventional tools and dies required to fabricate the product. Further, a component’s production cost now only depends on how much material is required. The process efficiency has implications that extend far beyond mere production, and it is giving rise to completely new photonics process chains. "Complexity for free" or "individuality for free" have become the latest catchphrases for the new process.
Dr. Meiners continues: "Generative manufacturing makes it possible to produce geometries of almost unlimited complexity, including those with internal structures. This makes it possible to design and optimize components for specific functions without having to worry about the restrictions associated with conventional manufacturing techniques."
As part of the application panels, Dr. Meiners and Maximilian Meixlsperger (BMW Group) will chair a session that features user presentations on this topic. The panels are part of the World of Photonics Congress, which is held at the neighboring International Congress Center München (ICM) concurrent with the fair. Both the Laser World of Photonics 2013 trade fair and World of Photonics Congress are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year.
Dental technology is beginning to integrate SLM where it is used to produce the metal framework for crowns and bridges, reducing production costs by 50 percent and speeding the fabrication time. Generative processes are also giving rise to advances in medical engineering, where they are making it easier to produce customized implants for any patient or drilling templates that can be individually adjusted for each bone operation.
SLM can save material, time and cost in the manufacture of blade-integrated disks for turbine airplane engines. Instead of fastening individual turbine blades to the hub, the entire turbine fan can be produced as a single piece. Using conventional techniques to mill the contours from the block of material takes a great deal of time and generates a great deal of material waste.
The aviation and automotive industries can utilize the advantages of almost unlimited geometric freedom to design more environmentally friendly products. Parts can be design optimized for low weight with less regard for manufacturability. The potential weight savings is 60 percent. In the automotive industry, the weight of a topology-optimized wheel bearing was reduced by 40 percent. These laser techniques are changing the repair industry, where parts could be made-to-order based the CAD data, eliminating replacement part inventories and spare parts production logistics.
End users will now be able to design some products themselves and then send the CAD data to a production service provider who will then produce the desired part as a one-off product or in a small series. Services of this type already exist for Smartphone covers.
Laser World of Photonics trade show has been held every two years since 1973, and it celebrates its 40th anniversary May 12-16, 2013. The concurrent conference program features practical lectures about laser and photonics applications organized by Messe München.