LAM 2017: Connecting the Dots from Simulation to Implementation of Laser Additive Manufacturing

By Michelle L. Stock 

Industry veterans and newcomers from over 10 countries gathered in Houston for LIA’s ninth annual Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM®) Workshop to participate in the premier laser additive manufacturing event. The two-day meeting was comprised of invited talks and keynotes, along with a vendor showcase. About one-third of participants were at LAM for the first time, reflecting strong enthusiasm—from engineers and developers—to learn more about laser-based additive manufacturing (AM).

The two-day meeting was comprised of invited talks and keynotes, along with a vendor showcase. About one-third of participants were at LAM for the first time, reflecting strong enthusiasm—from engineers and developers—to learn more about laser-based additive manufacturing (AM).


The Program: Keynotes on Commercial Trends & Simulations

LAM General Chair, Prof. Milan Brandt of RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia), along with Workshop Co-chairs, John Hunter of LPW Technology (Pittsburgh, PA) and Prof. Minlin Zhong of Tsinghua University (Beijing, China), constructed LAM 2017’s program to highlight trends and applications of primarily metal AM, as well as key aspects of design, materials and technologies that enable those applications. Brandt stated that he intentionally emphasized powder-bed AM this year because “laser additive manufacturing approaches such as powder fed cladding as well as wire-fed AM are fairly mature and the materials and processes are generally well-understood. Today, we are still in the relative infancy of selective laser melting in powder-bed systems although industry titans such as GE and Siemens are increasing the adoption rate.”

On that theme, the workshop opened with a Keynote titled “Accelerating the Additive Revolution” by Greg Morris of GE Additive. To date, GE has invested $1.5 B in powder-bed based AM tool manufacturers and estimates a large market for AM, predicting that it will sell 10,000 AM tools worldwide over the next 10 years. Morris, a pioneer in laser-based AM, provided examples of production successes such as the well-known LEAP fuel nozzle tip, which GE is currently ramping to 40,000 parts per year by 2022. The lessons learned in making nozzles have been applied to an advanced turboprop that was made up of 855 parts by traditional methods, and can now be created from only 12 printed parts. Even with AM’s incredible promise, Morris noted that it will take a change in design mindset to achieve the full promise of AM, and that may be the biggest challenge for many companies.

Stryker’s Keynote on Additive Manufacturing of Medical Implants was presented by Marc Esformes, from the Advanced Technology Group in Stryker’s Orthopedic Division. Esformes provided some history and the current status of Stryker’s adoption of AM for medical device manufacturing. In the 2000s, Stryker began to investigate AM and initiated its own R&D efforts. As of 2013, Stryker started selling AM-based orthopedic implants, and now offer devices for the hip, knee and spine.

Biocompatible surfaces are key to medical implants, and Stryker found that it could create the proper surface structure and replicate it identically from part-to-part faster and more reliably using laser-based AM than previous methods. They also found that the bone growth process was much faster with AM printed parts than with their traditional polymer-coated implants.

Wayne King’s Keynote on Day 2 focused on results of extensive efforts to improve qualification of parts produced using laser powder-bed fusion AM by applying physics-based models. King, a widely recognized expert and Director of AM Materials at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) described the multi-scale modeling efforts of his team, focusing on powder scale and parts-scale models. The powder scale model has become so powerful that it can now predict phenomena that was unanticipated, as well as nearly every spark and splatter occurring in the powder-bed and melt pool. The parts-level model predicts manufacturing properties in 3D. Even with such powerful simulation tools, there is work to be done to create more complete simulations of every step from design to part.

The Program: Presentations on Design, Materials, Technology & Applications

LAM 2017 included many high-quality talks from academia and industry that addressed subjects critical to commercial adoption of laser-based AM, from digital tools, to materials, to tools for quality assurance. Highlights from the program included presentations about:

• Materials for laser-based AM from Arconic, LPW
Technology and Tekna
• The status of software development for laser additive
manufacturing from Laser Zentrum Nord and Autodesk
• The prospects of and need for online process control from
the University of Michigan
• Technologies that enhance laser-based AM from
various solution providers such as Plasmo, Haas Laser
Technologies and Coherent

Turning to applications, while the use of laser-based AM is relatively well-known in aviation and medical devices, talks from Siemens and Baker Hughes reminded attendees that other industries—such as Power and Oil & Gas—are already making headway in the adoption of this revolutionary technology. Ingomar Kelbassa shared updates from Siemens’s AM activities related to gas turbines, including their first serial/spare parts using selective laser melting, and a positive outlook to future implementation.

A theme that came through during the workshop is that laser-based AM is just a part of the broader manufacturing toolkit that includes subtractive, non-laser based processes. This was illustrated in talks presenting tools that actually incorporate laser AM processes with drills that can then create features on an AM part without the need for removing the part and loading it on to another tool. As developers continue to explore the best ways to implement AM in prototyping and production, many more innovations in the process of implementation will undoubtedly occur.

To round out the program, a session on Micro-Nano Additive Manufacturing offered insights into new directions for laser based AM. Robin Day of RTWH Aachen University described methods for obtaining finer features and extremely small metal-based devices, while Prof. Minlin Zhong of Tsinghua University introduced his vision of new devices with increased functionality—envisioning a whole suite of sensors for commercial and personal-medicine applications, enabled by graphene-based AM.

Connecting it All Together with Suppliers to Achieve the Best LAM to Date

An important feature of the LAM Workshop is an exhibition of the tooling, components and materials that are featured in the presentations. Attendees had the opportunity to interact with suppliers that provide solutions throughout the workshop, but especially during the Exhibitor Reception at the end of the first day. With companies ranging from powder providers, sensor and beam delivery suppliers, and laser manufacturers, to full solution providers, attendees were able to check out the latest equipment that could help them realize their laser-based AM projects.

Wayne Penn of Platinum Sponsor Alabama Laser stated that the workshop is “a must-exhibit event” for his company, and as a sponsor since the very first LAM, he has demonstrated his commitment as an early and strong supporter of the industry. Gold Sponsors American Cladding Technologies and IPG Photonics both concurred, with IPG’s Bill Shiner declaring that “LAM is a great platform for sharing the latest in laser additive manufacturing, and it will be important to continue to get the word out to end users that LAM is where they will find the latest information to help them make the decision to move to AM.”

The workshop provided an opportunity for those who are still on the fence about how and when to add AM to their manufacturing capabilities, to speak with those who have adopted the technology and developers, including academics, R&D engineers and commercial suppliers. As LIA’s Marketing Director, Jim Naugle, commented: “With that range of access, LAM is by far the best event in the Additive Manufacturing space for those who are considering laser-based AM.”

Prof. Eckhard Beyer, an LIA Board Member and Managing Director of Fraunhofer IWS (Dresden, Germany), and a longtime expert on laser-based material processing, summed up LAM 2017: “This was the best LAM conference, and possibly the best conference I have attended over the past 10 years.”

With such a ringing endorsement, remember to bookmark to stay up-to-date about next year’s 10th LAM Workshop!