Fraunhofer ILT and TRUMPF team up to advance laser metal deposition 3D printing

The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) and German machine tool manufacturer TRUMPF have signed a cooperation agreement to accelerate the transfer of technology to industry within the field of laser metal deposition.

The partners will combine their respective expertise in laser system technologies and application-specific know-how to carry out research and development into improving the productivity, speed, materials, and processes of laser material deposition for their customers.

“Our core business is developing application-adapted processes and system technology components,” said Dr Thomas Schopphoven, Head of the Laser Material Deposition Competence Area at Fraunhofer ILT. “The basis for this is our 30 years of experience in laser material deposition – in applications we have developed for a wide variety of industries.

“When we transfer our technologies to industrial applications, our customers are increasingly focusing on the questions of systems engineering implementation, especially with regard to the availability, stability, and suitability of the components.”

Extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition EHLA with TRUMPF system technology. Photo via TRUMPF.
Extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition EHLA with TRUMPF system technology. Photo via TRUMPF.

Advancing laser material deposition

Fraunhofer ILT originally developed its patented Extreme High-Speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA) 3D printing technology in 2017. EHLA is the institute’s take on high-volume directed energy deposition (DED), and was initially offered as a modular toolhead that could be integrated into gantries and robotic arms. The institute describes its EHLA technology as a more efficient and environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional cladding processes.

Since the technology’s release, Fraunhofer ILT has worked with several partners to develop a next-generation version of the process that is better suited to 3D printing applications. In 2020, gripper manufacturer Bilsing Automation integrated EHLA into its workflow to produce a number of its proprietary products, including flexible grippers, handling devices, and forming tools. 

Shortly after, Fraunhofer ILT worked with the Max-Planck-Institute for Iron Research (MPIE) to use EHLA to produce a 3D printed composite material with comparable characteristics to that of Damascus steel, and later announced its EHLA technology had been adopted by manufacturing service bureau Toolcraft to repair and modify rotationally symmetrical components before coating them with corrosion and wear protection. 

In October last year, Fraunhofer ILT began conducting a new set of research projects using the latest version of its EHLA technology, EHLA 3D, in partnership with Germany-based engineering firm Ponticon. Currently, EHLA 3D can process parts weighing up to 25kg, at speeds of around 200 meters per minute, with a very high precision of 100 microns.

Aim of the cooperation: Applications such as the economical brake discs or the wear and corrosion protection of hydraulic cylinders. Photo via TRUMPF.
Aim of the cooperation: Applications such as the economical brake discs or the wear and corrosion protection of hydraulic cylinders. Photo via TRUMPF.

A new cooperation agreement

Fraunhofer ILT’s latest endeavor to further advance its EHLA technology will see the institute leverage TRUMPF’s decades of experience in manufacturing laser systems and components for laser material deposition and material processing.

TRUMPF is one of the world’s largest machine tool and laser producers for industrial manufacturers, and has built up a strong metal printing portfolio. Fraunhofer ILT will lean on the manufacturer’s know-how in manufacturing robust, reliable, and productive machines for laser material processing within industrial series production to accelerate the development of EHLA and its applications.

TRUMPF’s 3D printing portfolio is made up of its own laser metal fusion (LMF) powered systems, the TruPrint 1000, 2000, 3000, and 5000, alongside its laser metal deposition-driven TruLaser Cell 3000, 7040, and DepositionLine offering. From the beginning of this year, the firm will continue to provide Fraunhofer ILT with state-of-the-art laser systems with various optical systems and powder feed nozzles, in order to develop the processes and applications of its machines. 

“In this way, we research our processes directly on industrially relevant systems,” added Schopphoven. “This enables us to transfer our research into customer applications particularly effectively.”

The partners claim that “numerous promising applications” are in sight, such as more economical coating of passenger car brake discs, and greater protection from wear and corrosion of hydraulic cylinders. 

According to Marco Göbel, TRUMPF’s Industry Manager in Ditzingen, the closer cooperation with Fraunhofer ILT is a win-win for customers of both partners. Going forwards, the partners are planning to expand their cooperation further still in other areas of laser materials processing.

“Thanks to the close cooperation with Fraunhofer ILT, we can offer solutions for the entire production chain from a single source,” he said. “By combining our system technology – optimized for industrial use – with processes adapted or specially developed for this purpose, we help customers all over the world benefit from these innovations.”

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Featured image shows extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition EHLA with TRUMPF system technology. Photo via TRUMPF.