3D Printers

Supersized Industrial 3D Printing in Metal

Concept Laser, a manufacturer of industrial grade, metal 3D printers introduced its latest, large-scale laser melting system at this year’s Euromold event. As I mentioned in my review of the show this is an impressive machine with a range of novel features including a twin build chamber for continuous printing. Here we will take a closer look at the new X line 1000R.

First, a little bit of background — Concept Laser developed the Xline 1000R in collaboration with Fraunhofer ILT and Daimler AG with a focus on the needs of the automotive industry. As automotive manufacturing applications using advanced 3D printing technology has continued to evolve it has become an increasingly relied upon tool within the automotive sector due to its attractive economics and ability to reduce development times. The ability to print with metal materials makes it even more appealing. However, one of the tech’s greatest limitations, to date, has always been scale, specifically up. The primary focus of automakers is on aluminium alloys, which provide the basis for lightweight automobile construction and so the X line 1000R was developed for the tool-less manufacturing of large functional components and technical prototypes with functional material properties.

So it is not too surprising to learn that while the X line 1000R system was unveiled to the world for the first time at Euromold 2012 — a working system has been operating at Daimler AG for some time, with the aim of replacing costly sand-casting and die-casting applications in the early phases of their automotive development. In addition, according to Concept Laser there are more on order from other organisations — four of them.

In terms of scale the build chamber of the X line 1000R machine is 630 x 400 x 500 mm (x,y,z) with the ability to print parts as large as 740 mm when the part is oriented diagonally within the build chamber. The central feature of the new system is a high-power laser in the kilowatt range, which enables an increase in productivity of up to a factor of 10 compared with alternative laser melting machines available on the market; incidentally, Concept Laser’s proprietary name for the laser melting process is LaserCUSING. The X line 1000R builds parts accurately in layer thicknesses between 30 and 200 μm at a speed of 10 – 100 cm3/h (the variance depends on material and layer thickness). The system operates up to a maximum temperature of 200˚C and requires inert gas supply, which is consumed at a rate of 17 – 34 l/min during the building process.

The considerable dimensions of the system are 4415 x 3070 x 4500 mm (W x H x D) and it requires peripheral equipment that includes a sieving station and powder silo. Printing materials at launch are Aluminium alloy (AlSi10Mg), Titanium alloy  and Nickel based alloy (Inconel 718) with others currently under development.

According to Concept Laser and Daimler the full intention for this 3D printing system is to be able to generate — and manufacture — lightweight structures with a high level of rigidity, which will permit weight-optimised, complex geometries. There are currently no manufacturing techniques available today that can do this for scaled-up applications.

The cooperation between Daimler, Fraunhofer ILT and Concept Laser has proved invaluable in the development of this system in working towards a metal production solution for larger parts with a significant increase in the build-up rates, an improvement in the quality of the surface finish, reproducibility and reliability of the machine as a result of appropriate process monitoring, as well as the qualification of further aluminium series alloys for a range of applications. The Fraunhofer ILT, which has been one of the leading research institutions in the field of laser melting for over 15 years, supplied its know-how for designing the kW laser beam source and the matching optical lens system in order to ensure the desired build-up rates of different aluminium alloys. In addition, the process control for processing the different alloys alongside the machine construction was worked out and the mechanical properties of the components were examined.

According to Frank Herzog, Managing Director of Concept Laser; “This really was uncharted territory for us. The development of a machine concept of these dimensions in close collaboration with Daimler AG and the Fraunhofer ILT, based on our LaserCUSING technology, clearly illustrates our claim to be the technology leader in the field of laser melting. This patented, top-class machine technology from Concept Laser has been exported throughout the world since 2000. As a result of the cooperation project with Daimler and the Fraunhofer ILT, we hope that the generative machine technology will meet customers’ requirements on a broad basis and that it can be employed profitably.”

For the development of parts at Daimler AG, the flexible availability of such a machine opens up entirely new possibilities for further optimisation of the product development process and in the future for manufacturing applications.