Additive manufacturing with metals is becoming ever more important within the automotive industry. The ability to reduce both time and cost in production make this generative technology increasingly attractive to vehicle manufacturers.
With a primary focus on aluminium alloys, which provide the basis for lightweight automobile construction, Daimler AG is now embracing this resource-efficient, generative technology for applications involving vehicle and engine technology.
In order to guarantee their future requirements and expectations, Daimler AG has collaborated with the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) and LaserCUSING specialist Concept Laser, to develop a new super laser melting machine, the X line 1000R, with a build chamber size that surpasses anything seen previously.
Pilot Machine on a Mega Scale
The large X line 1000R (Fig.1) machine boasts a superlative build chamber, which according to Frank Herzog, managing director of Concept Laser, has impressive dimensions. The X line 1000R was developed for tool-less manufacturing of large functional components and technical prototypes, with material properties that are identical throughout the range. At the heart of the X line 1000R lies a high-power laser in the kilowatt range, which allows an increase in productivity, of up to a factor of 10, compared with standard metal additive manufacturing machines currently available on the market.
Develop Complex Components Faster
The new machine was specifically configured to cater for Daimler AG's special requirements for automotive applications. The aim of Daimler AG is to replace costly sand-casting and die-casting applications, used in the early phases of development. In addition, the LaserCUSING process, will in future, offer the possibility of generating lightweight structures with a high level of rigidity. This will permit the production of weight-optimised geometries, with almost no restrictions on the design, which at present cannot be produced with the manufacturing techniques currently available today.
Cooperation Between Daimler, Fraunhofer ILT and Concept Laser
The project partners got together as part of the "Alu generative research and development project (German Ministry of Education and Research)“. The Fraunhofer ILT, together with several industry partners, including Daimler AG, evaluated laser melting technology for production applications on aluminium components. Industrial applications for fabricating production components have to date, generally been restricted to smaller components or dental and medical technology, mainly as a result of the materials and costs.
As part of this project, the application potential for manufacturing aluminium components for other areas of industry was explored in detail. The well-known characteristics and benefits of the metal additive manufacturing process include conservation of material, the ability to produce without the need for die cast moulds, freedom of geometry, as well as the speed of construction and development. The results of this exercise were appraised by Daimler as a fundamentally new way of looking at manufacturing options, with the aim of creating innovative and environmentally friendly products. From the point of view of the development partners, this also provided a solid basis for tackling the pressure of costs in production and safeguarding Germany's long-term future as a place for high-tech manufacturing.
Requirements in Automotive Construction
The demands of Daimler AG as an industrial partner were - a significant increase in the build-up rates, an improvement in the quality of the surface finish, reproducibility and reliability of the machine as a result of appropriate process monitoring, as well as the qualification of further aluminium series alloys for a range of applications.
The Fraunhofer ILT, which has been one of the leading research institutions in the field of laser melting for over 15 years, supplied its know-how for designing the kW laser beam source and the matching optical lens system in order to ensure the desired build-up rates of different aluminium alloys. In addition, the process control for dealing with the different alloys alongside the machine construction was established and the mechanical properties of the components were examined.
Concept Laser as the Machine Builder
This preliminary work now needed to be turned into "solid" machine technology. In parallel with this, the functional specification was drawn up at Concept Laser in Lichtenfels together with the various partners and the design phase of the new X line 1000R then began. The findings from the work done by the Fraunhofer ILT, in relation to temperature control of the build chamber in order to avoid any warping in the "oversized" components, and in relation to the design of the powder application system were implemented within the design of the X line 1000R.
Frank Herzog, Managing Director of Concept Laser commented, "This really was uncharted territory for us. The development of a machine concept of these dimensions in close collaboration with Daimler AG and the Fraunhofer ILT, based on our LaserCUSING technology, clearly illustrates our claim to be the technology leader in the field of laser melting. This patented, top-class machine technology from Concept Laser has been exported throughout the world since 2000. As a result of the cooperation project with Daimler and the Fraunhofer ILT, we hope that the generative machine technology will meet customers' requirements on a broad basis and that it can be employed profitably,"
For Daimler AG, the high and flexible availability of such a machine opens up entirely new possibilities for further optimisation of their product development process.
The Fraunhofer ILT and Concept Laser will present the new high-performance X line 1000R LaserCUSING machine, for fabricating series components in an XXL format, to the general public for the first time at Euromold 2012 (Hall 11, Stand D88).