Additive Manufacturing technologies – especially for industrial use – have been around for a while now, and we have seen users becoming more mature in applying them over the years. Moreover, AM technologies are still a piece of unexplored land and a new type of manufacturing method in constant development. As such, we are constantly in the process of exploring AM together with our customers and partners, discovering new possibilities of this manufacturing techniques. In this article we will focus on a specific AM technology: L-PBF, and how to tackle one of the biggest challenges for this manufacturing process, namely productivity. 

Following the same line of thought, collaboration is key to further drive the industrialization of AM technologies to our shareholders and customers. We are, therefore, on a path together with EOS, among our other partners, to discover ways of improving AM and make it even more known and accessible on the market. In this way, we will be able, not only to support our shareholders and customers in becoming more competitive on the global arena, but also to help untie the issues regarding sustainability. The question now remains: How do we achieve our mission to further industrialize AM?  

Scaling up the laser spot size

A part of the above-mentioned question can be answered by our collaboration with EOS on exploring ways of increasing productivity, through increasing the laser spot size, by using a new scanner generation, developed by Scanlab. This scanner offers a new way of working with the laser as it can handle “on the fly” adjustment of the laser spot diameter, which was not possible before. With a larger spot size, it is possible to melt a larger area in the powder bed, thus impacting the exposure time for each layer. Imagine painting a wall with a small brush compared to a paint roller – the same applies in this case with regards to how much exposure time is needed to melt the desired area. A larger laser spot diameter has the potential to reduce the total build time, and thus it allows to strengthen industrial business cases. However, it is a work in progress, and we need to look further into the impact of a variable laser spot for the manufactured components, especially with regards to mechanical properties. Hence, we are collaborating with EOS on real business cases that can be used as a baseline to show the direct impact a larger laser spot size might hold. 

Tests conducted by EOS show good potential of increasing productivity in the L-PBF process, especially when looking at parts with a large area to expose in the 2-dimensional layer. For example, we have used one customer case that was printed in our facilities on an EOS M 290 machine with the standard setup, and compared this case using the new big spot setup. First build simulations for the new big spot laser showed that the build time would last for 16 hours, a decrease from 89 hours on a machine with a fixed laser spot diameter. This means that a larger laser spot size will not only increase the productivity on the machine by 80 %, but also reduce the cost per part significantly. If you would like to read more about the big spot and a real example that EOS has worked on, please check out the following article.

Picture from EOS showing the larger laser spot size

Why using a larger laser spot size?

Beside the increased speed in the melting process, which can impact productivity, leading to a reduced cost per part, a larger laser spot size will also support L-PBF in its quest for becoming a more sustainable manufacturing technology. With the processing time being considerably reduced, there will be less shielding gas and electricity used in the build chamber. So, in the long run, if a company would own several of these machines, with the possibility to adjust the laser spot size to minimize exposure time on the individual layers, the energy consumption could be reduced. However, we need more case studies to test the utilization of a larger laser spot size, when it comes to sustainability and the amount of energy used in the printing process.   

Moreover, laser beam shaping technology in general, has the potential to reduce the amount of spattering powder particles that interferes with the build process. Therefore, with the possibility to adjust laser spot size to work optimally for a chosen component, and other beam shaping technologies, process waste could potentially be reduced significantly, thus saving resources, while laying the foundation for a more sustainable manufacturing process.   

Concluding thoughts

As we are still on the path of discovering more possibilities with AM technologies, we see collaboration as a key to achieve successful results. We have embarked on this journey together with EOS to understand what a specific laser beam shaping technology potentially holds. Understanding the processing capabilities using this latest version of scanners from Scanlab, is only one example of, how we can understand the industrial potential and hereupon what would be necessary to achieve a widespread industrial adoption. It is an ongoing process – exploring new breakthroughs and by continuous testing on real business cases, which will help AM users and technology owners discover how valuable it could be for the future. 

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