3D Printing

Boosting efficiency and repairing parts with Makino’s EHLA3D technology integration

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Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) and Japanese machine tool manufacturer Makino have partnered to integrate the institute’s extreme high-speed laser cladding (EHLA) 3D printing technology, into a five-axis CNC machine.

In doing so, both parties have developed a method to efficiently produce, coat, or repair complex parts made from strong materials. This collaboration aims to shorten production times and extend the life of components in various industries. The EHLA3D process allows for the flexible processing of different shapes and coating parts with multiple materials. Initially focused on creating new parts, the project soon included repairs.

“Repairs are extremely exciting,” said Min-Uh Ko, Group Leader for AM and Repair Laser Metal Deposition (LMD) at Fraunhofer ILT. “Many expensive components have to be replaced, even for minor defects. A flexible system like the one from Makino with a rotary and tilting table actually offers good repair options, which saves costs for new production, avoids transport and delivery times and minimizes downtimes. Furthermore, the topic of repair is the basic prerequisite for a future circular economy.”

Fraunhofer ILT’s EHLA technology

Back in 2017, Fraunhofer ILT first developed its novel ultra-high-speed laser material deposition method known as EHLA for coating and repairing metal parts. EHLA aims to replace traditional methods like hard chrome plating and thermal spraying, offering faster and more efficient corrosion and wear protection. 

Recognized with the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize and a €50,000 award, this development improves bonding and reduces material waste compared to thermal spraying, and also shows potential for repairing metal components, addressing substantial annual costs related to material corrosion.

Since then, this technology has been used by other entities in the AM sector. In 2020, manufacturing service bureau Toolcraft adopted the institute’s EHLA technology to repair and coat components efficiently, expanding its AM capabilities. 

Beginning its AM journey in 2011 with a powder bed fusion (PBF) system, Toolcraft subsequently integrated EHLA into a customized Trumpf TruLaser Cell 3000. This integration notably enhanced deposition rates and facilitated precise layer thicknesses, utilizing a retractable 3D scanner for part measurement and positioning.

Two years later, researchers from RWTH Aachen University’s Chair for Digital Additive Production (DAP) used EHLA 3D printing technology to develop new alloys for laser powder bed fusion (LPBF). The team compared process characteristics between EHLA and PBF, finding EHLA promising for rapid alloy development similar to PBF. 

This approach optimized material properties such as microstructure and mechanical strength efficiently. According to the team, future research would be conducted to refine EHLA’s role in advanced alloy development for PBF applications, exploring alloy compositions, particle dynamics, and evaporation behaviors.

3D printing of Fraunhofer ILT lettering from three different powder materials as a demonstrator component for the new, highly productive EHLA 3D process. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.
3D printing of Fraunhofer ILT lettering from three different powder materials as a demonstrator component for the new, highly productive EHLA 3D process. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.

Advancing precision and efficiency in laser manufacturing

For this effort, Makino’s role involved providing and redesigning the CNC machine to handle high speeds and optimize controls for precise laser-material interaction. Developed by Makino’s Singapore subsidiary, the machine achieves speeds up to 30 meters per minute, significantly faster than traditional systems. This improvement is useful for producing large, complex parts quickly, ensuring high-quality end products and increased production efficiency, crucial for aerospace and toolmaking industries.

Additionally, Fraunhofer ILT’s laser manufacturing know-how and advanced lab facilities were instrumental in making the process work across multiple materials. The institute collaborated with toolcraft AG, the industrial partner, to successfully transfer the technology. This involved optimizing settings for the laser, powder material feed, and how the machine itself moved during the process.

One of the project goals was to repair and maintain high-quality tools and machine parts subjected to heavy use. The adapted EHLA3D technology successfully met this objective and was also applied to coat wear parts, significantly extending their service life. 

EHLA3D has emerged as a cost-effective solution for applying wear-resistant coatings, which is particularly beneficial in industries such as mining and heavy machinery. This innovation offers a practical means of reducing costs and downtime associated with frequent part replacements, presenting a compelling case for widespread adoption in high-demand sectors, says the institute.

Makino quickly integrated the project outcomes into its new AML 500 machine, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of its CNC systems. According to the company, EHLA3D technology has proven itself to be a robust, industrially applicable solution through its real-world applications.

Looking ahead, both parties aim to explore new applications for the flexible EHLA3D process, leveraging its ability to handle diverse material systems. This includes previously challenging areas such as multi-material systems and intricate structure printing, which were traditionally limited by the capabilities of the LMD process.

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Featured image shows 3D printing of Fraunhofer ILT lettering from three different powder materials as a demonstrator component for the new, highly productive EHLA 3D process. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.

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