Optomec’s LENS (Laser Engineered Net Shaping) 3D printing process is one of the high end metal 3D printing processes used for the production and repair of highly engineered metal components used in industries such as Aerospace, Defense, Power Generation and Medical devices. The company’s portfolio of larger machines has been adopted across these industries, most notably for repair applications. Specifically, for metal components and structures that are undeniably complicated like the BLISK in the video below. The wheel structure with blades can be easily produced and/or repaired by Optomec’s printer more easily and efficiently than with traditional manufacturing processes. With this technology, it is also possible to supplement material with more resistant sheaths and mixes processed with metal additives.
Now, however, Optomec has introduced a smaller system utilising its proprietary LENS technology — the LENS 450. The company calls it an entry-level system, but this is only within the context of its other systems and should not be confused with entry-level 3D printers that extrude plastic filament. The LENS 450 has been developed to support smaller applications but also the US’ drive for further research and training programmes around metal 3D printing processes for manufacturing, according to the company. The smaller system footprint boasts the same advanced metal processing capabilities as its larger siblings but is believed to be more inclusive and cost-efficient for training a new generation of engineers and manufacturers when it comes to metal 3D printing.
Thus, like the larger versions, the LENS 450 3D Printer can process stainless steel, cobalt chrome, titanium and superalloy materials, just within a smaller build chamber of 10 cm3 (64 cubic inch) work envelope. With a positional accuracy of ±0.25 mm and linear accuracy reported at ±0.025mm, the system can deposit material at a rate of up to 80 g/hour.
The first LENS 450 system will be installed at the University of Pittsburgh to support its Advanced Manufacturing education program.
So, while plastics do still tend to dominate the conversation concerning 3D printing, the advances in production and the need for more industrial material, manipulation and application with metal fills needs in various fields with specific regulations. On a purely aesthetic level, the metal additive manufacturing process does provide more of a kick, as it should, with lasers firing like a micro-Death Star composing cooled shiny alloys under showers of spark.