Mar 27, 2017 | By David

The 3D printing industry rarely stands still for long, and it is now poised to undergo yet another minor revolution, thanks to a groundbreaking new 3D printing technique that has just been discovered by University of Sheffield researchers in the UK. Known as Diode Area Melting, the process is a faster and more energy efficient alternative to existing laser-based methods.

Existing laser-based 3D printing processes are frequently used in the manufacturing sector to produce prototypes as well as functional components and parts of all kinds. They work by selectively shining a laser beam on to specific areas of a photo-sensitive liquid or powder bed, gradually building up a solid 3D object layer-by-layer. The use of a single laser, usually reflected off a mirror, means that this process can be a time-consuming one, limited by the speed of the beam. Diode Area Melting is a technique that will cut down production time by using multiple lasers instead of just one.

Speeding the process up in this way has been generally regarded as an unreliable alternative, as the beams would be of a lower power and thus wouldn’t be able to provide the required temperature to activate the material. This is an assumption that a team at the University of Sheffield, led by researchers from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, set out to disprove. “Our research challenges the long held belief in the industry that low power diode modules cannot achieve sufficient melting due to their low power and poor beam quality’’, says Dr Kristian Groom.

(source: solid concepts, youtube.com)

The key to their success was to make use of shorter wavelengths for the laser beams, thus greatly improving the efficiency of the process. ‘’Shorter wavelength laser arrays (808nm) increased absorption of the individually collimated and focussed beams’’, according to Groom, which ‘’allowed melting points in excess of 1400℃ to be reached within a few milliseconds, enabling production of fully dense stainless steel 17-4 parts.”  Not only does the use of an array of lasers melting large areas in parallel mean that an object can be manufactured much more quickly, the ability to turn individual beams on and off as required also means that energy consumption is handled much more effectively. Energy efficiency is one particular area where 3D technology will always need to improve, so this breakthrough could be at the forefront of a new generation of 3D printing processes.

(source: youtube.com)

Funding for this research came from an Impact Acceleration Grant (IIKE) allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Drs Groom and Mumtaz are hoping to follow up on this success with continued research into laser interaction. As for DAM, there are plans to up-scale the technique to be more widely accessible, as well as extending it to polymer processing. The possibility of working with multiple materials in a single machine, using a combination of wavelength-targeting processes, is something that the team is currently looking into.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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