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Feature article by Ilya Mingareev and Martin Richardson about laser additive manufacturing in OPN

A Feature article by Ilya Mingareev and Martin Richardson "Laser Additive Manufacturing: Going Mainstream" appears in the February 2017 issue of OSA's Optics and Photonics News.

Many of us remember, as children, using a lens to focus the sun’s radiation—at a power density of around 0.1 W/cm2—and burn holes in leaves or other objects in the garden. With the advent of high-power lasers, that basic principle has spawned a manufacturing industry some US$50 billion in size. Modern lasers, emitting coherent, focused radiation at power densities on the order of MW/cm2, can provide remote, localized point sources of intense constant energy that, when absorbed, can melt or burn materials. Today's car assembly lines feature automated laser welding systems that can seam car bodies together at great speed; deep welding with lasers in the shipbuilding industry has become commonplace.

In the shadows of this first generation of laser-aided manufacturing, however, a second approach has been quietly maturing. It uses the same radiation source—high-power laser energy. But instead of the “subtractive” techniques used in conventional machining of metallic or ceramic materials, in which material is progressively removed from a solid block to create a part, the part is progressively built up in 3-D via laser sintering or melting, using either a bed or stream of powdered material. Within the metal manufacturing industry, this form of 3-D assembly has become known as laser additive manufacturing (LAM).

Under intense development for the last decade or more, this new manufacturing method, once perfected, has the potential to revolutionize design and manufacturing. Indeed, investment in additive manufacturing has increased from a few tens of millions of dollars a decade ago to several hundred million dollars today, with companies like General Electric, Siemens and Aerojet Rocketdyne leading the way.

Such investment suggests that LAM could be at the proverbial “hockey-stick” take-off point for rapid development. Yet in many ways, LAM today, for reasons related to cost and technology bottlenecks, remains a niche manufacturing approach. Here, we look at some of the advances and changes—in technology and, perhaps as important, in manufacturing mindset—that will be necessary to achieve LAM’s game-changing potential. more...

Posted Wednesday, February 1, 2017

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