Concept Laser Additive manufacturing growing fast towards industrial series production

Author / Editor: Oliver Edelmann, Vice President Global Sales & Marketing, Dr Florian Bechmann, Head of R&D, Oliver Kaczmarzik, Technical Product Manager (Concept Laser) / Barbara Schulz

Germany – Additive manufacturing is booming with worldwide sales in 2016 forecast to increase by around 30% to more than US$7bn. An industry pioneer is Concept Laser of Lichtenfels, Germany. The company continues to lead today, now with its vision of the “AM Factory of Tomorrow”.

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Example of a part from the aviation industry: New design and lightweight construction meet serial character. The illustration shows an additively manufactured part (bottom) compared to a conventional part (top).
Example of a part from the aviation industry: New design and lightweight construction meet serial character. The illustration shows an additively manufactured part (bottom) compared to a conventional part (top).
(Source: Airbus)

A study conducted by the international management consultancy Bain & Company reckons that annual growth rates of more than 30% will continue to be achieved and the market will grow to around US$12bn by 2018.

The AM option will always be the right solution whenever the additively constructed part will be better, more powerful, available more quickly, lighter and/or cheaper. From the point of view of industry, build rates are probably the most important criterion when it comes to assessing economic efficiency and these limits are continuously shifting upwards thanks to technological progress.

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The move to an adaption phase for additive methods can be seen as the first step toward industrial series production. Freedom of geometry and the potential for lightweight construction, functional integration, production on demand, time and cost savings and considerations in relation to resource-saving and sustainable production all play a substantial role here.

The expectations placed on AM continue to rise. What answers are the machinery and plant manufacturers offering in the medium term?

Larger build envelopes? The X line 2000R with 2 x 1,000 W has what is currently the world’s largest build envelope for the powder-bed-based laser melting of metals (800 x 400 x 500 mm3). Even larger build envelopes are conceivable.

More powerful laser sources? There is eager anticipation here to see where technical progress will lead, but this route alone will not be the preferred choice.

Higher build rates? There is definitely one approach here that can be implemented quickly. The key concept is multilaser technology. However, multiple laser sources must be used skillfully to ensure that there are no curtailments to the quality of the parts.

Current machines and installations are “island solutions”. They operate as stand-alone solutions without really being integrated into the operational manufacturing environment. The machines are not interlinked either with each other or with upstream and downstream manufacturing processes. They can only communicate to a limited extent within the digital process chain extending from design through to fabrication. In this form they are not suitable for the industrial series production of the future. The consistent automation of manual processes is still missing and it appears there is still some way to go to achieve the objectives of Industry 4.0 in the guise of a smart factory.

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