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Formnext 2019: Fraunhofer IWS presents COAXshield and LIsec AM systems

21 Nov 2019

Enabling fine-tuning for additive production; local molten pool shield for laser powder build-up welding; and control of powder flow.

Additive manufacturing systems can generate highly complex components, which could not be produced with conventional machine tools or only with great effort. Nevertheless, such industrial 3D printers are far from being standard equipment in factories.

This is not just due to the purchase costs, but also to many other challenges. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (IWS), Dresden, Germany, has developed a range of solutions and is presenting them at this week’s formnext trade fair in Frankfurt. Included are COAXshield, a local molten pool shield for laser powder build-up welding and LIsec, an analysis device for controlling powder flow in AM processes.

Titanium, a material popular in aerospace, oxidizes in contact with air at processing temperatures above or equal to 300°C. As a result, the material properties change. The components become brittle and can crack.

If, for example, a laser is used by a robot to manufacture a titanium workpiece additively, a large chamber must be built first around the robot and the component. This chamber is then either flooded with a low-reactivity noble gas such as helium or argon or a vacuum must be generated before manufacturing can start.

“This kind of process shielding may be suitable for small component sizes, but it causes considerable difficulties for the production of large components in terms of process control and accessibility,” said Jakob Schneider, who researches AM at Fraunhofer IWS.

“In addition, the costs for such a chamber increase proportionally with the size of the component to be protected. These are, for example, the expanses for several cubic meters of helium or argon, which may have to be pumped in and out due to intermediate processing steps.” The same applies to workpieces made of further materials, so-called “refractory metals”, such as tantalum, niobium or titanium-aluminum compounds.

“COAXshield” protects titanium components

For this reason the IWS has developed COAXshield, an alternative protective shield designed to direct the shielding gas only to the areas where it is really needed: directly around a laser beam's processing zone, which melts the metal powder and deposits it layer by layer on the component.

The nozzle head can be mounted under standard processing optics. It encloses the powder nozzle and forms a protective gas cone “coaxially” around the process zone. This cone thus only protects the hot processing zone, because just here titanium and ambient air can react with each other.

“This solution saves the user a lot of time and money,” said Schneider. “In addition, very large titanium components can also be additively manufactured.” An example: For the X-ray space telescope ATHENA, the European Space Agency ESA needs a satellite supporting structure made of titanium with a diameter of several meters.

In cooperation with Fraunhofer IWS, ESA is developing a process and the associated system technology for additive manufacturing. The COAXshield has been developed in this context .The technology is expected to be ready for the market at the beginning of 2020.

LIsec ignites powder stream

While in conventionally used ablative processes such as milling, the calibration of the tools corresponds to the state of the art, in laser powder build-up welding it is still a great challenge. The LIsec measuring device was developed at IWS to solve this challenge and move the limits to technical feasibility.

The abbreviation stands for Light Section and reveals the principle: a measuring laser scans the powder flow after leaving the nozzle. A right-angle camera is mounted, which records light sections through the powder and forwards them to analysis software.

“The three-dimensional distribution of the powder stream can be calculated with high precision,” said IWS engineer Rico Hemschik. “This allows significantly simplified quality control and provides conclusions about the wear degree of the powder nozzle.”

For example, it can be used to repair damaged or worn turbine blades on aircraft in a higher quality and more reliably than before. “In this respect, our measuring device can contribute to greater safety and lower maintenance costs in aviation,” said the IWS engineer. The Dresden Institute is already working on the industrial implementation of the technology with several well-known international companies and research institutes.

SPECTROGON ABESPROS Photonics AGLBP Optics LtdEKSMA OPTICSBRD Optical Co., LtdAltechnaBoston Electronics Corporation
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