Lasers Part of the Big Picture in Additive Manufacturing at RAPID 2013

By Geoff Giordano

PITTSBURGH, June 11, 2013 — From a 1 kW fiber laser system with an expanded build-chamber that can increase productivity more than ten-fold vs. conventional systems to development of a lightweight hydraulic valve manifold through selective laser melting, RAPID 2013 devoting some of its spotlight to photonics-based additive manufacturing.

The 1 kW system created by Concept Lasers, Fraunhofer ILT and Daimler — one of the many significant AM advances discussed at LIA’s Laser Additive Manufacturing Workshop in Houston in February — is one of several laser-focused presentations to be given at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center today and tomorrow.

The 21st RAPID kicked off this morning with a trio of standing-room only keynotes addressing a rapidly accelerating commitment to AM in the United States. That charge is being spurred largely by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. Among NAMII’s roster of entrusted equipment are devices for selective laser melting and selective laser sintering, noted Director Ed Morris. Momentum is clearly building for AM, as NAMII will sign on its 77th member this week.

One key NAMII partner, Penn State’s Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Director Digital Deposition, is among the exhibitors known to LIA members. Stay tuned here for reports on others, including EOS, Optomec and Stratasys. Another familiar face will be tomorrow’s keynote speaker, Terry Wohlers. The AM guru has given two state-of-the-industry presentations for LIA.

Educating a new generation of AM-savvy workers is a primary concern for the U.S. Familiarity with increasingly portable and affordable AM technology is already fostering such a new wave of “makers.” For instance, Brett Lambert, deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing and industrial base policy for the Department of Defense, noted that he bought his daughters, ages 6 and 8, a 3D printer that they now use routinely to produce things like a Mother’s Day gift. “They spend their Saturday mornings with friends around the neighborhood,” he said. “Kids come over to our house and they design. They play on Tinkercad. They’re not watching cartoons, they’re designing — they’re building.”

The ultimate goal, noted Lambert and Michael Molnar, chief manufacturing officer for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is maintaining U.S. status as a manufacturing powerhouse.

“Your choice is not whether we design and develop in the United States — it’s whether we’re ahead of the rest of the world,” Lambert stressed. “This display that I walked through this morning demonstrates that we are ahead of the rest of the world. Sure, we need to protect our national security (and our) intellectual property. But most importantly, we need to design and build things in the United States that the rest of the world wants to steal.”

Molnar, incoming president of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, noted some critical trends.

While 70 percent of patents go to manufacturing companies in the U.S., “11 of 19 of our major U.S. manufacturing industries are producing less today than they did a decade ago,” he said. “Over that decade we lost 65,000 manufacturing plants.” But the country has added more than 700,000 manufacturing jobs, he noted. “This isn’t the story of outsourcing for labor cost. (For) 100 years we were the world’s largest manufacturer, and we always ran a huge trade deficit in these advanced technology products.” What has changed, he argued, “is that the rest of the world has really focused on advanced products in this innovation ecosystem.”

Stay tuned for more updates today and throughout the week as LIA covers RAPID 3D.