Dec 20, 2017 | By David

Laser-based 3D printers are growing in accessibility and affordability, and at the same time the technology is becoming the go-to solution for manufacturing in a variety of industries, both at the prototyping and final production stages. Selective laser sintering and other systems are still limited, however, by the speed at which they can print. Many key players throughout the industry are looking for ways to accelerate the laser 3D printing process, and one of global technology giant GE’s senior engineering teams is currently working on ways to increase the speed by making use of much more powerful lasers.

The 3D printers that are commonly used for the construction of metal parts for aerospace, energy or automotive applications tend to deploy a 400-watt laser beam. Based on instructions from a digital 3D model, this welds together fine layers of metal alloy powder that are no thicker than the width of a human hair, or 100-150 microns. More powerful lasers would increase the speed of this process, but a simple increase in intensity isn’t an option. “If we just arbitrarily took larger lasers and shot them at the powder bed, it would blow up,” says Bob Filkins, a senior principal engineer in Additive Technologies at GE Global Research.

The current 3D printing process is slow because, to use a painting analogy, the 400-watt laser is a little like a fine paintbrush. What Filkins and his team want to develop is the laser equivalent of a paint roller or a spray gun, so that a larger area of the powder bed ‘canvas’ can be covered. Instead of just expanding the laser contact area, they are experimenting with different shapes and patterns, such as a cloverleaf, a donut or a ring.

The increasing implementation of 3D printing technology across the manufacturing world, and the scaling-up of current applications due to the success that has already been achieved, means that faster print times can have a huge impact. GE Aviation uses additive manufacturing techniques to supply parts for the aviation company, and stands to make considerable savings in terms of costs and time by improving its lasers.

“Just consider that GE Aviation will be printing well over 200,000 fuel nozzles to meet their CFM LEAP engine orders,” Filkins says. “If we could print these parts 10 times faster, we would save 40 million build-hours... As the industry looks to scale in size of machines and parts being made, higher speeds are essential to keep build times feasible.”

GE Additive recently unveiled the Project ATLAS 3D printing system, which will have a huge build volume. It should be able to print parts that are 1 meter long along all three of the axes. Filkins and his team expect to have a working prototype of the machine by sometime in early 2018.

According to Filkins, over the last 60 years, “laser technology itself has transformed so many industries and applications from surgery in the operating room to the internet itself. Now we have an opportunity to transform manufacturing as we know it, which is very exciting.”



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive