22 January 2014

Concept Laser Launch Laser Additive Manufacturing Research and Development Centre

The continued and rapid growth in the demand for components produced by the generative part manufacturing process, also known as laser additive manufacturing, has been a key driver in the decision by Concept Laser to open a new development centre at the company’s headquarters in Lichtenfels, Germany.

The 600 square metre R&D centre increases the capacity for both the testing and development of the LaserCUSING® process. LaserCUSING® uses the power of a high energy fiber laser, directed using a galvo scanning unit, to fuse metal powder in layers and build metal components that are used across a wide range of industries.

For development engineers, the centre offers the ideal platform, not only for process development, but also for the development of new Laser Additive Manufacturing systems, such as the LaserCUSING® System X line 1000R in XXL format, recently launched by the company. A further benefit is the ability to facilitate "discrete innovations" meaning that R&D activities can be undertaken whilst respecting bilateral confidentiality requirements. Concept Laser, with its strong focus on high-quality, application-specific system solutions in the fields of medical and dental technology, the automotive industry, tool and mould construction, and the highly innovative aviation and aerospace sector, will intensify its proven three-phase product development process at the new location.

Florian Bechmann, Head of Development at Concept Laser commented "The number of test reports produced by our development department has already risen by 30% from 2012 to 2013. The new development centre will raise our capabilities to a new level--in terms of time, as well as quality and quantity. As a technology leader, we want to live up to the market's expectations." Maintaining the position as a technology leader requires ongoing investment and for Concept Laser, this means that the entire annual surplus is being reinvested in research, development and growth.

The sector predicts a further growth spurt in terms of development. For instance, the range of lasers is being extended; an example being the upgrade from 400 to 1000 Watt. Furthermore, it has announced that in the future, 2, 4, or more lasers will operate in parallel in installation areas. This so-called "multi-laser technology" will significantly improve the speed of generative component construction. Concept Laser does not just want to be seen as average when it comes to the safety aspects, automation and quality assurance measures that underpin its development process, it wants to continue setting new standards.

Numerous application areas within medical engineering, turbine engineering or within the automotive industry are currently undergoing a significant move away from traditional technologies towards generative 3D printing processes on an industrial level. Some of the strongest drivers of this change in thinking are members of European markets, such as Astrium Space Transportation, which is part of the EADS Group, or the German Aerospace Centre, pan-industrial EU projects, such as Amaze; however above all it is also companies from the NASA environment right through to large-scale American aircraft manufacturing. Furthermore, Bechmann also emphasizes the clear advantages that LaserCUSING provides for sustainable, environmentally friendly production.

According to Bechmann, the decision to concentrate technical expertise in a central location was also motivated by the enormous increase in customer-specific solutions, which are usually subject to confidentiality. These sensitive projects arise from intensive customer relationships and, as sources of innovation, will be decoupled from the "normal operations" of the development centre. According to Bachmann, "This will allow discrete innovations to be developed in the necessary seclusion and depth."

The development centre combines the functionalities that are relevant for the LaserCUSING®. This facilitates even better networking within the fields of optical systems, design, control technology, and software development. Development engineers are now able to work more closely and can conduct tests very rapidly and communicate the results more effectively. The redesigned development facility now houses a larger metallography laboratory and materials testing area. This supports the growing trend of customers formulating special, application-specific requests related to the powder materials being used, requests which the system manufacturer must then translate into validated, certified processes. "These requirements relate to every facet of the areas of process design, quality assurance and safety, especially for reactive materials," says Bechmann. Concept Laser intends to further expand its recognised expertise in the area of materials and materials certification.

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