Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology is scaling up additive manufacturing outputs by expanding their use of lasers.  

During a talk today at the Additive World conference in the Netherlands, Fraunhofer ILT’s Dr.-Ing. Wilhelm Meiners explained their plans for implementing additive manufacturing in series production. 

3D Printing Industry reports live from the 2017 Additive World conference hosted by Additive Industries in Eindhoven 15-16th March.

Wilhelm Meiners gave a brief overview of the research institute with some key facts and figures. Photo by Corey Clarke.

Wilhelm Meiners gave a brief overview of the research institute with some key facts and figures. Photo by Corey Clarke.

SLM for mass production

According to Wilhelm Meiners, Fraunhofer ILT  is currently exploring how to scale up their selective laser melting (SLM)-based productivity in order to compete with mass production.

He explains that the company is moving away from prototyping, focusing more on “what we are currently doing for the next steps.It is for this reason that the institute is proud of the amount of spin-off companies it has enabled – which is currently at an average rate of least one per year.

Meiners gave an overview of the institute's additive manufacturing timeline. Photo by Corey Clarke.

Meiners gave an overview of the institute’s additive manufacturing timeline. Photo by Corey Clarke.

As a technology that began by approaching the tooling market, the technology is now able to produce end-user parts such as fuel nozzles, and airplane components. This is how Meiners sees production escalating to the mass market, though he asserts, “We are far away from series production today.” In order to improve this, he says that the industry must look at costs per part.

Fraunhofer used selective laser melting to produce this part. Photo by Michael Petch.

Fraunhofer used selective laser melting to produce this part. Photo by Michael Petch.

More lasers?

The answer, according to laser enthusiasts, is more lasers. Fraunhofer has explored the use of additional lasers and higher powered lasers to improve speed of production.

Despite this, adding more lasers to existing additive manufacturing systems is not scaleable according to Meiners.

Meiners revealed new concept machines that could move their chamber to produce large-scale parts. Photo by Corey Clarke.

Meiners revealed new concept machines that could move their chamber to produce large-scale parts. Photo by Corey Clarke.

New concept machines

To address this, Fraunhofer has looked at the creation of new scalable machines for additive manufacturing. One of the concept machines is a system that can move over parts in order to 3D print parts of unlimited scope. The concept is scalable as more lasers can be added and it has a large build area.

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Featured image shows Fraunhofer’s helical optics. Image via Fraunhofer ILT. 

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