What makes 3D printing with metals so extremely useful?
Multiple reasons explain the rise of Laser Powder Bed Fusion (also known as Selective Laser Melting or Direct Metal Laser Sintering). There's the design freedom it offers, making complex geometries possible. This leads to high-performance parts and all-new applications. Another motivation is the cost, as fewer materials are needed than other manufacturing methods.
But those are just some of the reasons why LPBF is a useful technology..
In this video, we'll dive deeply into Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) to explain how it works, why it's helpful in an industrial setting, and how companies currently use this technology.
For the first part of the series, watch this overview of additive manufacturing.
How Laser Powder Bed Fusion Works
The basic concept behind LPBF will be familiar if you understand welding.
Like welding, the L-PBF is a line-by-line, layer-by-layer process. The difference is that the L-PBF machine – and there are many different types – involves a high-temperature laser and an inert gas atmosphere. The laser melts the metal powder stored in the powder bed, which then solidifies. This is repeated layer by layer, with each layer fusing until the final part is completed.
The End-to-End Laser Powder Bed Fusion Process
Like any other manufacturing process, the customer or part requirements come first. Until the production of the actual part, every step of the process exists in the digital domain. All the design, engineering, and preparation is done with software. Printing itself can then begin, but this is not the final step of the process. Afterward, you typically need to do a heat treatment to get rid of residual stresses. Usually, some surface finishing is required. Notably, support structures also need to be removed.
Once all that is finished, the quality assurance process begins to see if the components meet expectations.
Why Use L-PBF?
Complexity is free when using L-PBF technology.
That means that additive manufacturing lets you print complex parts for virtually the same price as a simple geometry. L-PBF allows advanced lattice structures and other intricate parts to be cost-efficiently made. This design freedom enables advanced use cases involving advanced components that weren't possible with other manufacturing methods.
Reducing costs is one advantage, but increasing agility is another.
Sometimes you have a part that you don't need that often. Storing this rarely used part isn't too efficient. Neither is having a supplier on call at all times for those moments. With L-PBF, you can print this part on-demand whenever needed.
All this leads to a very efficient product development cycle because you can parallelize the design, the prototyping, and the testing during the development of new products or the improvement of existing products.