By: Geoffrey Giordano

ORLANDO, FL, Feb. 7, 2012 — A future in which vital consumer and medical products and parts are made virtually from thin air with just metal or plastic powders and lasers could thrust the U.S. into the forefront of 21st century manufacturing.

Leading the charge in advocating such cutting-edge rapid manufacture and 3D printing is the Laser Institute of America, which holds its fourth annual Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM) Workshop in Houston, TX on Feb. 29 – March 1. The educational showcase will feature keynote presentations by experts Terry Wohlers of Fort Collins, CO, and Dr. Ingomar Kelbassa of Germany’s Fraunhofer ILT and RWTH Aachen University.

LAM is a vital part of LIA’s suite of renowned conferences, along with the annual International Congress on Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics (ICALEO®) and the newer Lasers for Manufacturing Event (LME). LIA’s signature events present the full spectrum of knowledge about rapid manufacture, from the research driving it, to how and when to use it — and employ it profitably.

The technology is gaining notice outside the rarefied realm of high-tech. Consider:

• The Economist featured the cover story “Print me a Stradivarius” in February 2010. In that issue, Wohlers noted that more than 20 percent of the output of 3D printers is final products; he expects this to rise to 50 percent by 2020.

• A column in the January 30 Wall Street Journal called laser additive manufacturing one of three keys to the new tech boom in the United States, imagining the “ ‘desktop’ printing of entire final products from wheels to even washing machines.”

Additive manufacturing permits designers to produce highly complex shapes and features difficult or impossible to produce any other way, notes Wohlers, who began his consulting firm Wohlers Associates 25 years ago. “This is allowing companies in aerospace, medical and other industries to explore more advanced designs that dramatically reduce material, cost, weight and carbon emissions,” he says.

A prime example is the “Airbike” built by the European Aerospace and Defense Group in Bristol, U.K. “Made of nylon but strong enough to replace steel or aluminum, it requires no conventional maintenance or assembly,” EADS says. It’s a sign additive processes are supplanting the traditional manufacturing model.

“Remember ‘Star Trek’?” Kelbassa asks. “ ‘Replicator: Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.’ The cup is there with the tea in it. It’s just there, additively manufactured. From the Stone Age, we have been producing parts subtractively (by) removing material … throwing away 90 percent. Now we are talking about… building up the part from scratch.”

Industrial applications within the past 10 years include the manufacturing of car bumpers with stereolithography and production of patient-specific dental bridges, implants and crowns using what Kelbassa calls selective laser melting.

LIA has retooled LAM this year to devote a full day to laser-based rapid manufacture beyond the more established practices of creating prototypes and repairing corrosion and wear. The workshop will spotlight advances in the power generation, aerospace, agriculture, automotive, military, marine, transportation, construction, and biomedical industries.

Don’t hesitate, register today using discount code: LAMWSJ and save $50 off your full conference registration. Simply click on the link below to register and save!

www.lia.org/conferences/lam/attend