Growing Global Interest in AM Offers Opportunities for the Laser Community

By Geoff Giordano

PITTSBURGH, June 12, 2013 — When additive manufacturing guru Terry Wohlers gives his state-of-the-industry keynotes, you can feel the excitement in the room. It was the case at the past two Laser Additive Manufacturing Workshops, and it was the case this morning at RAPID 2013.

While relaying some of the most important findings detailed in his 2013 report, he made note of interesting AM projects around the world. In South Africa, a partnership between aerospace company Aerosud and the country’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is working on a large-format powder-bed system using a 5 kilowatt laser. The project, set for completion within a couple of years, is intended to produce titanium parts up to 10 times faster than previously realized.

In the automotive sector, which Wohlers notes was an early adopter of AM, BMW has its eyes on producing more plastic and metal parts with the technology. Multimillion-dollar investments in AM projects in China and Singapore are further confirmation that advancing this 25-year old technology is fast becoming a priority.

It’s quite clear from the data Wohlers has amassed that industrial AM machines far outnumber personal-use devices. That’s where LIA’s Lasers for Manufacturing Event shines. LME, in its third year, fosters relationships between those who produce lasers and systems that make high-value parts with those who embrace the unique benefits of photonics-based production. This year’s event, to be held Sept. 11-12 at the Renaissance Schaumburg (Ill.) Convention Center Hotel, is geared precisely to answer some of the questions that surfaced on the show floor at RAPID 2013.

For instance, the team behind the Multi Proto Lab by NNMC — a module-based unit that offers the capability of several rapid-prototyping machines — is in discussion with players in the laser industry to broaden the MPL’s functions. The unit, which won the innovation award at RAPID, could feature a laser-cutting module as well as employ a laser for curing in conjunction with a drop-on-demand printer, says marketing manager Calvin Close. While they shop for laser suppliers, added engineering manager Ray Hamilton, “we’ve already had one module where we’re doing some laser measurement.” For the cutting operation, “we’re looking at probably about an 80-watt laser that would be able to cut single-ply materials and do some fusing of liquid solders.”

Speaking of award-winning exhibitors at RAPID, the best-in-show honor went to Concept Laser, maker of the large-capacity X line 1000R, for an exhibit that drew considerable attention. Concept Laser’s new venture with Italy’s CI-ESSE, to be called Powderpart, is likely to draw even more attention when the collaborative facility opens in Boston soon.

We’re looking forward to monitoring the progress of projects like these. And if lasers are a solution looking for a problem, the attention focused on them in Pittsburgh this week could inspire interested parties to seek their laser solutions at an LIA event.