Sep 15, 2016 | By Benedict

German metal 3D printing specialist Concept Laser has unveiled its new “smart factory” approach to additive manufacturing. The idea behind the Industry 4.0 “smart factory” is to decouple process stages, allowing tasks to be carried out in parallel and physically separate from one another.

The AM Factory of Tomorrow, Concept Laser’s modular additive manufacturing factory-building kit, has been designed to allow manufacturers to seamlessly incorporate additive manufacturing technologies into existing production lines or to develop new and efficient AM production spaces. The Lichtenfels-based company has now revealed new aspects of its advanced manufacturing concept, detailing how a move from the sequential to the parallel could maximize production speed, cost-efficiency, and scalability.

According to Concept Laser, the company’s new machine architecture promises to set a new milestone in industrial metal 3D printing, with lead times for 3D printed parts drastically reduced following the decoupling and automation of process stages. After demonstrating its technology at formnext powered by TCT 2016, the company is now planning to commercialize its modular AM factory.

As part of its commercialization plan, Concept Laser will soon offer stand-alone process stations with a build envelope of 400 x 400 x >400 mm, utilizing between one and four laser systems with variable focus diameters encompassing 400 W to 1,000 W laser sources. The machines will also use incorporated 3D scanning systems which enable real-time adjustment of the laser spot, with diameters of from 50 – 500 μm. Having multiple lasers ensures that, even if one laser fails, the build can always be completed.

Concept Laser’s new machine concept will utilize an innovative 2-axis coating system which allows the coater to return in parallel with the exposure, saving time and eliminating spatter problems. The coater blades, which can be made of rubber, steel, or carbon, can also be changed automatically during the build job, while an automated tool changing system provides a high level of flexibility, saves on set-up time, and reduces the required level of manual assistance.

The new machine architecture from Concept Laser is characterized by its decoupling of pre-production, production and post-production in order to coordinate the process components in a more targeted way and increase the flexibility of the process design. The modular structure of the architecture’s handling stations and build and process units contributes to this flexibility. According to the company, it will also become easier and more economical to handle a wide range of printing materials through a targeted combination of these modules, while manufacturers could reduce their production space by up to 85% with the modular system.

Another part of Concept Laser’s new “smart factory” approach is the division of storage, processing, and excess material collection. By separating these components into individuals units,  which can be moved via a tunnel system inside the process or handling station, manufacturers can reduce downtimes when only one module needs to be restored or operated on. When new powder is supplied, for example, the empty powder storage module can automatically be replaced by a new module without the build process necessarily needing to be interrupted.

The individual modules of the Concept Laser AM Factory of Tomorrow will be linked with RFID interfaces rather than pipes or tubes, producing a reliable flow of materials with high material throughputs and multi-material flexibility. The next step in the development of this system will involve transportation of material or entire modules by driverless transport systems, maximizing automation and reducing operator workload.

The CL WRX (Concept Laser Works) 3.0 software suite, part of the machine architecture system, has been designed to enable control and monitoring of machine components and data flow. The software combines MDL (machine data logging) with ODL (operating data logging), and organizes the flow of data across the entire digital process chain. It will provide transparent process monitoring, active process configuration, and automation through to component documentation, enabling users to see the amount of powder remaining, check the build progress, interpret error messages, or see pending maintenance tasks in advance. The software also offers interfaces for incoming CLS data, automation tasks and links to the company’s ERP systems.

“As a trend-setter, Concept Laser is once again providing different solutions to the competition,” commented Oliver Edelmann, Vice President of Global Sales & Marketing at Concept Laser. “And this is a good thing too. With its new machine architecture, Concept Laser will again set a milestone and benchmark in the Additive Manufacturing of metallic parts. This approach follows completely new paths and enables economical series production. We want to significantly enhance the added value for our users.”



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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