Laser beam shaping propels Aconity3D and Equispheres to exceptional build rates in metal AM

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Equispheres and Aconity3D have achieved build rates nearly nine times higher than metal AM industry norms, specifically for aluminum powder and laser powder bed fusion.

Expanding on previous reports of tripling production speeds, the collaboration between the two firms delves deeper into the potential of their equipment and material technologies. Leveraging Aconity3D’s printing equipment alongside laser beam shaping and Equispheres’ NExP-1 AM powder, they have achieved production speeds surpassing 430 cm3/hr for a single laser.

“NExP-1 powder is vital to achieve these remarkable speeds,” explains Martin Buscher, Aconity3D. “It has exceptional properties that make it ideal for high-speed work. The powder characteristics enable optimal melting behaviour, which is required to achieve consistent printing with high-powered lasers at these extraordinary speeds.”

Equispheres unique aluminum alloy powder particles magnified to 50μm. Photo via Equispheres.

Beam shaping and specialized powders enhance laser powder bed fusion productivity

Laser beam shaping has garnered attention in additive manufacturing for its potential to accelerate processing speeds. This technique, employed in laser powder bed fusion (LPBF), alters how energy interacts with the powder bed, impacting power density and thermal gradient. In the pursuit of beam shaping’s potential, the collaborators opted for NExP-1, an AlSi10Mg powder recognized for its stable melting behavior and precise printing process control, ensuring dependable and replicable melting properties.

Equispheres’ distinctive manufacturing process produces NExP-1, acknowledged as a top-tier powder. For this initiative, the AconityMIDI+ underwent modifications, incorporating an IPG YLR 3000/1000-AM equipped with beam shaping capabilities, allowing for a maximum power of 3 kW. Opting for a shaped beam, rather than a zoomed Gaussian beam, reduces overheating and mitigates spatter formation during high-productivity processing. Aconity3D’s modular printing systems provide flexibility, accommodating tailored solutions for additive manufacturing needs.

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“Aconity3D’s printing technology and the team’s expertise were crucial to this project’s success. We’re working with extremely high-powered lasers, testing additive manufacturing process parameters far beyond previous capabilities. It was necessary to have the precise control and monitoring capabilities of Aconity3D printers,” said Evan Butler-Jones, Vice-President – Product & Strategy at Equispheres. “The resulting build speed outpaces current production rates for aluminum additive manufacturing by a large margin.”

Aconity3D and Equispheres presented their findings on enhanced productivity in aluminum L-PBF at Formnext 2023. The discussion delved into the achieved productivity impacts by integrating engineered beam profiles with specialized powders.

Equispheres unique aluminum alloy powder particles magnified to 200μm. Photo via Equispheres.
Equispheres unique aluminum alloy powder particles magnified to 200μm. Photo via Equispheres.

Evolving beam shaping technologies

3D Printing Industry spoke to Philipp Kohlwes regarding Fraunhofer IAPT‘s beam shaping research that aims to enhance stability and productivity in metal 3D printing. Led by Kohlwes, the institute explores technologies, including adapting laser profiles, to optimize meltpool energy input in LPBF. Traditional Gaussian laser profiles result in uneven energy distribution, causing vaporization issues and compromising process stability. Beam shaping is essential as it adjusts laser profiles to ensure a consistent temperature distribution. The technology offers benefits such as improved microstructure control, potential cost reduction, and increased productivity, with 1.5 to 2.5 times faster printing.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers addressed drawbacks in metal 3D printing by exploring Bessel beams, an alternative to traditional Gaussian beams. By redistributing energy, Bessel beams aim to reduce porosity and defects in metal parts. Unlike Gaussian beams, Bessel beams, with their non-diffracting properties, depth of focus, and increased tolerance, enhance the LPBF process, reducing thermal gradients and instability. Experimental results showed reduced melt pool turbulence and spatter, leading to denser, stronger, and more robust 3D printed metal parts. Beam shaping offers a low-cost, promising approach to improve LPBF quality and make 3D printing compatible with industrial standards.

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Read all the 3D Printing Industry coverage from Formnext 2023.

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Featured image shows sample print with Equispheres powder. Photo via Equispheres.


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