An In-depth Look at Additive Manufacturing’s Challenges & Successes
By Betsy Marone
The eigth year of Laser Institute of America’s Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM®) Workshop brought together over 170 attendees from 14 countries. The successful event gathered these individuals – over half of whom attended for the first time – who are involved in the manufacturing of complex, lightweight, metal and various other structural materials. From 3D printing and cladding to rapid manufacturing and sintering, presentations covered a plethora of revolutionary Additive Manufacturing (AM) methods that continued the workshop’s tradition of building enthusiasm in the industry.
The event, which was held at the Embassy Suites in Orlando, FL from March 2-3, featured numerous speakers from key companies involved in the industry. Presenters hailed from companies including Keystone Synergistic Enterprises, Inc., Fabrisonic LLC, Rolls Royce and General Electric as well as universities around the world who are making important advances in additive manufacturing.
LAM General Chair Paul Denney of Lincoln Electric led the 2016 workshop, along with co-chairs Ingomar Kelbassa from Siemens and Jim Sears from GE Global Research Center. Together, they designed the program to not only look at how people are using AM in the industry today, but also the situations in which lasers provide the best solution when compared to other technologies.
“New this year was a session dedicated to technologies (electron beam, arc welding and ultrasonic) that compete against lasers for additive manufacturing,” said Paul Denney. “We also had presentations from end users that addressed when and why they select a technology for AM. These two sessions were designed to make those involved with laser additive to understand the ‘competition’ and to help people selecting additive processing to choose lasers if it makes sense for their needs.”
The first day of the workshop began with the session on alternative technologies, which featured a keynote presentation by Professor Sudarsanam Suresh Babu from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His presentation focused on recent advances in metal additive manufacturing, as well as the role in-situ process monitoring, computational monitoring and advanced characterization play in the field. Professor Babu’s discussion of AM’s benefits, compared to traditional manufacturing methods, gave way to an overview of the additive manufacturing process – from geometrical conformity and topography optimization to size specific properties and beyond.
Raymond Walker from Keystone Synergistic Enterprises, Inc. – a company that has been involved in AM for over 20 years and is currently focused on cost-reduction and the use of additive manufacturing to make larger scale products – discussed the large-scale robotic pulsed-arc the company is developing. The robotic arc prototype Walker presented to the crowd has several benefits that make it a promising alternative technology. Not only is it stable and uniform, but it has in-process sensors for process verification and can calculate melt pool for monitoring, record events away from the control, and provide uniform conditions throughout the build.
Robert Salo of Sciaky, Inc. also presented a session on alternative technologies, discussing Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM™). Sciaky, Inc. has continuously worked on its EBAM™ Systems and Services as a contract service company for Electron Beam Welding, Pulse Additive Welding and EBAM™. Salo demonstrated simulations of Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing and discussed the benefits of the method, including the way in which the high power couples with metals easily, its use of basic inputs, its large system designs and its high deposition rates.
The Focus of LAM 2016
Two of the missions of LAM 2016 were to give attendees a thorough understanding of the benefits and challenges of laser-based additive manufacturing while establishing what technologies in the industry need to be further developed or improved. Numerous presentations from the two-day event worked toward these goals, including David Bourell’s Materials Issues in Laser-based Additive Manufacturing. Bourell, who works at the University of Texas at Austin, presented data that estimates exponential growth in materials sales in upcoming years. Though some project the growth will reach $1 billion by 2025, materials issues still remain a concern in the industry. Bourell discussed the four major material issues that currently pose problems: proper form feedstock, fabricator process ability, post-process ability as needed, and acceptable service properties.
Kirk Rodgers from GE Corporate discussed supply chain challenges, which include certain qualities AM lacks and specific issues that exist with design skill and rules. His presentation also touched on the needs of the processes, such as material standards, consistency, reliability and material delivery systems. He explained the importance of optimizing lasers for time by utilizing offline or automated loading and unloading, as well as offline or automated material recovery. While recognizing that machines have hardly changed in the last 20 years, Rodgers offered some solutions for issues he discussed, but also stated that some problems may be solved over time or through specific training.
Focusing on the continued benefits and success of additive manufacturing, RMIT University’s Milan Brandt presented AM research that is being conducted in Australia. Looking at current procedures for bone-specific implants, RMIT hopes to improve traditional implants by replacing them with a 3D object constructed from a CT scan. With this technology, RMIT believes mass customized vertebral implants could be created in order to help people with disk damage from accidents. Brandt explained that continued research and promising technology like this has ensured the growth of laser additive manufacturing in Australia.
Additive Manufacturing Across Industries
Similar to previous years, numerous industries were represented at this year’s LAM Workshop. From laser 3D printing and oil and gas to the military and bio-medical, LAM once again showed that laser additive manufacturing plays a key role in a variety of industries.
During a session on selecting the correct additive process, the main focus centered on the aerospace industry. Brian Thompson from GKN Aerospace presented Additive Process Evaluation for Aerospace Applications, during which he reviewed the industry’s adoption of additive manufacturing, including what he considers today’s method – the net shape production of prismatic shapes – and next generation optimized structures, which he considers tomorrow’s method. Explaining that the aerospace industry has seen an increase in AM over the years, Thompson also acknowledged the qualification barrier for certain materials and processes and discussed the use of powder bed methods for smaller parts and directed energy deposition for larger parts.
Overall, the wide array of presentations provided attendees with an informative and helpful workshop. Alex Zappasodi from Polymet Corporation remarked, “[LAM is] a great show! Valuable information, great attendees, and meticulously organized.” James Tomic, a fourth-year attendee, agreed, saying, “If you’re using lasers for AM, you don’t want to miss LAM.”
In addition to the educational sessions that made up the majority of the event, attendees were also given the chance to network with key individuals in the industry during the Exhibitor Reception. This opportunity ensured that attendees not only received the chance to expand their knowledge of the latest advances in additive manufacturing at LAM, but were also encouraged to make connections with people who can help them make the most of the process.
“We’re looking forward to LAM 2017, when we return to Houston, TX,” said Denney. “While the Oil and Gas Industry is suffering from lower oil prices, we feel that there will still be a strong interest in laser cladding – a form of laser additive manufacturing – because it can lower production costs.”
Visit www.lia.org/lam for updates on LAM 2017.