Nov 9, 2017 | By Tess

To kick things off this Thursday, we’ve got more exciting news for this year’s formnext exhibition, as scientists from the Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT have announced they will be presenting their latest development there: a new, large-scale SLM laboratory system.

The new selective laser melting 3D printing system, which was developed at the Fraunhofer facility in Aachen, has an impressive build volume of 1,000 x 800 x 500 mm—much larger than existing SLM systems on the market. The researchers say it is capable of producing large metal parts “quickly and with high process reliability.”

Of course, with a build volume that large, the printer’s overall footprint is substantial, so the Fraunhofer ILT team will be showcasing their new technology at formnext 2017 through videos and presentations. The scientists goal is to demonstrate that SLM additive technology is scalable in terms of build size.

Selective laser melting is a process for metal 3D printing which consists of using a high-power laser to melt and fuse layers of metal powder into a solid object. Like most metal 3D printing processes, the technology incorporates a build chamber which has an inert gas atmosphere, which enables the right manufacturing conditions for the laser and metal.

Christian Tenbrock, a scientist in the Rapid Manufacturing group, explained: “The focus of development work is on new strategies for exposure and shielding gas flow.” That is, one of the main challenges of scaling up SLM processes was that the inert gas suction strategy typically used in SLM could not be adapted for larger build volumes.

To overcome this challenge, the Fraunhofer team has focused its efforts on finding a new solution for inert gas flow which would be adaptable. And ultimately, it seems that it was successful.

M.Sc., M.Sc.​ Christian Tenbrock, researcher at Fraunhofer ILT

As the team explains, it has developed a system that relies on small, movable processing heads with a local shielding system which ensures a constant stream of inert gas at every processing point for build volumes of any size.

The Fraunhofer ILT scientists also say they’ve been experimenting with and testing various fiber laser systems as well as different exposure concept with more cost-effective diode lasers. Notably, they have been developing a mobile processing head that has “highly dynamic linear axes and several individually controllable diode lasers.”

Having a moving processing head, they explain, could potentially improve the 3D printing system’s build-up rate in a cost efficient way by opening up the potential for multiple beam sources. It could also increase the build volume capacity by “extending the travel length of the axis system without changing the optical system.”

The researchers have also addressed issues in parameter process management surrounding SLM 3D printing in their work, and are aiming to find solutions to such problems as internal stresses and distortions in SLM 3D printed parts.

Ultimately, the Fraunhofer ILT scientists hope their SLM 3D printing research will encourage and enable 3D printer manufacturers to develop large-scale, next-gen SLM systems.

“We hope that the system concept will lead to a breakthrough in the successful use of this technology in series manufacturing,” commented Tenbrock. “We create process conditions that are constant and easy to control, thereby improving process robustness.”

“Above all, the new system concept shall make it possible to manufacture functionally optimized SLM structural components on an XXL scale for demanding sectors such as the aerospace, automotive and tool and mold making industries—in accordance with the new trends in lightweight design and functional integration,” concludes a release on the SLM project.



Posted in 3D Printer



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