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formnext 2019: Fraunhofer ILT spin-off wins Start-up Challenge

30 Oct 2019

Laser Melting Innovations' system for LPBF using metal powder enables SMEs to deploy affordable metallic 3D printing.

Laser Melting Innovations, a spin-off company from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) has been named one of the winners of the “formnext Start-up Challenge” 2019.

The Aachen scientists will be recognizeded by the jury for the development of their low-cost system on November 19 at the formnext in Frankfurt, Germany. With this system for Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) using metal powder, SMEs have the opportunity to deploy an industry-suitable technology for metallic 3D printing, says LMI.

In 2016, Dawid Ziebura, a research associate and project manager at ILT, developed the prototype of a low-cost system for LPBF at that year’s formnext expo. “We decided to use a diode laser instead of an expensive fiber laser,” he said. “A further idea was to replace expensive scanner systems with a Cartesian-motion laser system.”

The prototype and the ideas for developing it met with such enthusiasm at formnext that the project participants decided to launch a company in 2017. However, the spin-off – Laser Melting Innovations (LMI) – chose not to pursue the original concept of an affordable assembly kit, and instead focused on developing an industry-ready, low-cost LPBF system.

Ziebura continued, “The argument against the original assembly kit idea was that the customer wouldn’t be satisfied even if they had a small, serviceable machine. In most cases, it’s not their core competence, and adapting their manufacturing processes with the machine simply wouldn’t be a viable proposition during day-to-day operations. We realized they needed a fully functional tool.”

Under €100,000

“Suddenly we were faced with a whole set of new challenges,” added LMI managing director Mirjam Henkel. “We had the process firmly in hand, but now we had to deal with tasks such as CE certification, design and marketing.”

One year later, the start-up company launched its fully functional LPBF machine, the Alpha 140, which – together with the required peripheral parts – costs less than €100,000.

The innovative system works in an argon/nitrogen inert gas environment and uses an air-cooled, fiber-coupled 200W diode laser with a wavelength of 915nm and a focus diameter of 140µm.

This entry-level model can be used for the additive manufacturing of parts with a maximum height of 200 mm and a maximum diameter of 140 mm using stainless steel 1.4404, 1.2709 or alloys such as Inconel 625 and 718, CoCr, or AlSi10Mg. It also meets industry requirements for a component density of 99.9% and satisfies special geometry requirements. The compact machine also offers the benefit of a small footprint (1675 x 815 x 1508 mm).

Market opportunity

“The jury chose us because they saw potential,” said Henkel. “This is the kind of machine SMEs are looking for, and we’re putting it on the market at exactly the right moment.”

The company has already sold two pilot systems that will be used in research. The machine’s versatility will benefit not only researchers, but also industry users, because it allows the process parameters to be flexibly adapted for each part, for example to test new materials.

By the use of a Cartesian coordinate system, the machine also boasts a very large construction chamber. “This gives users the chance to use sensors or cameras. That’s a big difference between our concept and conventional systems that are generally difficult to access,” explains Ziebura.

Ziebura is still working as a research associate at ILT. “In the joint development projects to date, I have taken on the technical management duties on behalf of Fraunhofer ILT,” he said. “That will continue until I complete my doctorate. We would also invite other SMEs to join forces with us to put their ideas into practice.”

Interested parties attending formnext 2019 can visit LMI at booth B81H (Hall 12), from November 19 to 22. The Start-up Award presentation takes place on November 19 from 5:15 p.m. on the AM4U stage in Hall 11.0-F71.

Scanlab debuts system for multi-head laser machines

Scanlab will unveil a new additive-manufacturing scan head at formnext 2019. The Puchheim, Germany-based firm says it has “poured decades of 3D printing expertise into fiberSYS so that sector newcomers can use this all-in-one solution to rapidly create high-efficiency laser systems and scalable machine designs.

The compact fiberSYS scan system I designed to optimize machine assembly times for integrators and fabrication process times for users.

Productivity for large-area workpieces in particular can be significantly enhanced by combining multiple scan systems with high-overlap image fields. Scanlab’s new system was developed with this in mind: “Its exterior dimensions and beam exit location are optimized to facilitate maximum overlap between adjacent scanners.”

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