By Kari Williamson

The Fraunhofer ILT research team has been driving forward progress in the field of additive manufacturing over the last two decades, developing techniques to save energy and resources in the production environment.

Dr. Poprawe and his team are experts in the technique of selective laser melting (SLM), enabling customised components such as medical implants or functional parts for machine tools to be manufactured cost-effectively and rapidly in small batches on the basis of 3-D CAD data, following the just-in-time principle.

Dr Poprawe says: “In a few years’ time, the way spare parts are manufactured for an established supplier of hydraulic components will be radically different. Instead of keeping hundreds of variants of spare parts in stock, the manufacturer will simply store the 3-D CAD data of all components that have been produced in the past. Then, when an order is received, the appropriate part can be produced on demand using the selective laser melting process and shipped promptly to the customer.”

Dr. Ingomar Kelbassa, Vice and Academic Director of the Chair for Laser Technology LLT at RWTH Aachen University and Department Head at Fraunhofer ILT, adds: “Designers are liberated of almost all restrictions related to the production process, and can freely express all of their creative ideas in the product. Everything else is taken care of by our 3-D printing process.”

In addition to SLM, the Fraunhofer ILT research team is also promoting the use of Laser Material Deposition LMD in manufacturing MRO, repair and modification activities. The main applications at present are the repair of aircraft engine components and tools for a wide range of industrial sectors.

Dr. Andres Gasser, Group Manager Laser Material Deposition at Fraunhofer ILT, explains: “In SLM, the component is built up by melting particular areas of successive layers of powder using a laser source that fuses the material in a pattern corresponding to the final product. By contrast, in LMD, the components are produced by laser melting powder material projected by a nozzle onto specific areas of the component. SLM is capable of generating the finely detailed structures of complex components. LMD is more suited to the manufacture of large-area components and to repairs.”