Whether you drive or fly to LIA’s fifth-annual Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM) Workshop in Houston in February, there’s a chance at least one part on your vehicle was prototyped — maybe even produced — by LAM.

Most likely, lasers played a significant role in protecting the equipment used to process the fuel for those vehicles.

Whether they are traditional cladding applications to prevent corrosion and wear of vital parts and machinery, or 21st-century technologies that go by many names — selective laser melting, sintering, 3D printing, laser metal deposition — the latest research in these areas will be presented Feb. 12-13 at LAM 2013.

General Chair Paul Denney and Workshop Co-chairs Ingomar Kelbassa and Jim Sears are crafting an educational lineup that again runs the gamut from bread-and-butter 2D processes to groundbreaking powder-bed and 3D rapid manufacturing.

“There’s a lot going on in 3D rapid fabrication, or full functional deposition, whether it’s medical/dental, aerospace, etc.,” notes Denney of Lincoln Electric. “Very high-value, moderate-to-low volumes is still a big interest.”

Meanwhile, “there is a lot of activity and interest in surface technology — call it 2D-plus. Its large surfaces, either thin or moderately thin buildups, for corrosion protection, wear protection or repair.” Some of that is being driven by energy. “We’re drilling deeper, digging up oil sands, and we have to be able to recover that material in an economical fashion.”

Laser processing has advantages over other technologies, but it still needs to be faster and cheaper, Denney says. “It’s glamorous to do the 3D stuff, but there’s a lot going on in the old-fashioned cladding. There are people out there doing more than 200,000 pounds of powder a year at their one facility — that’s more than $8 million in powder; that’s not counting the value of the product.”

MOMENTUM FOR LAM
At LAM 2012, renowned additive manufacturing consultant Terry Wohlers delivered a keynote address in which he projected significant advances in the technology across a broad range of industries. In a Sept. 15 post on his blog, Wohlers Talk, he suggests AM has reached a tipping point.

“The accumulation of activity over the past 12 months suggests that (AM) may have hit this important milestone,” he wrote. “The technology is receiving unprecedented attention by corporations of all sizes, the investment community and government agencies around the world.” He attributes this to growing mainstream media interest, the availability of relatively inexpensive personal 3D printers and a rush to identify parts produceable by AM.

But AM processes “are no stand-alone production solutions,” notes Kelbassa, of Fraunhofer ILT and RWTH Aachen University. As with subtractive manufacturing processes such as five-axis milling, “AM processes are embedded in entire horizontal and vertical process chains. They only represent single process steps. All process steps need to be addressed holistically when approaching new AM chains to be industrially implemented — from the AM design (geometric freedom) to the raw material (powder additive) to the finished product.”

That concept is informing the educational sessions at LAM 2013, he says. They will feature “new, emerging applications that are already industrially implemented in terms of maintenance, repair and overhaul of high-value parts and components. The diversification of the use and application of laser-based AM processes is mainly due to its significantly increased efficiency; AM can already compete with conventional manufacturing techniques in certain areas.”

In fact, in terms of industrial implementation, “AM is a standard production technology (Technology Readiness Level 9), such as in dental restorations like bridges, crowns and dental implants,” Kelbassa notes. “In other areas, mainly aerospace, power generation and automotive, the TRL is about 6 to 7 and increasing.” Of course, cladding and coating by laser metal deposition are standard procedure in mining, oil and offshore operations and in the areas of tool, die and mold-making, he says.

Exhibitors at LAM demonstrate the newest equipment and process available.

THE FUTURE OF LAM
The promise of LAM is such that in March the U.S. proposed a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation that will “catalyze up to 15 manufacturing innovation institutes around the country,” according to the government’s Advanced Manufacturing Portal (www.manufacturing.gov). In August, the first such center — the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute — was established. NAMII “will provide the innovation infrastructure needed to support new additive manufacturing technology and products in order to become a global center of excellence for additive manufacturing. This pilot institute will bridge the gap between basic research and product development for additive manufacturing, provide shared assets to help companies, particularly small manufacturers, access cutting-edge capabilities and equipment, and create an environment to educate and train workers in advanced additive manufacturing skills.”

Of course, LIA has been leading the charge to do just that since creating the LAM workshop. The 2013 edition will spotlight trends such as progress toward significantly higher deposition rates, application-tailored materials and adapted process chains, Kelbassa says.

But innovation takes time. The average time from invention until market impact is about 15 years, he notes. Advanced AM must gain traction at a time when process and supply chains have been “planned, designed and established for subtractive manufacture.”

LAM 2013 will feature cutting-edge presentations.

Ultimately, the laser industry must focus on meeting its customers’ needs with the correct — and cost-effective — processes, Denney says.

“At the end of the day, it’s price,” he stresses. “If (manufacturers) can use cheaper powders or go to sheet, they would. Everyone’s (asking): ‘Can I do water-atomized powders or mechanically created powders instead of using gas-atomized? Can I introduce heat or processes to decrease the laser power or increase at the same laser power my deposition rate? Can I do in-situ cladding, can I do inside pipe?’” These concerns are “driving all processes, whether it’s arc or laser or plasma transferred arc welding.”

At Lincoln Electric, “we’re focusing on hot wire,” he says. “We think if you’re adding something cold to the interaction you’re increasing your power requirements in the laser. Anything I can do to keep the laser power as low as possible, which decreases my price, great. Or, if I stay at one laser power and up my feed rate, so much the better.”

To register for LAM 2013 and learn about the right solutions for you or your customers, visit www.lia.org/lam.