Ken Vartanian, marketing director for Optomec, discusses LENS systems with an attendee at RAPID 2013 on Tuesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

Optomec marketing director Ken Vartanian, second from left, discusses LENS systems with an attendee at RAPID 2013 on Tuesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

By Geoff Giordano

PITTSBURGH, June 11, 2013 — Attendees at RAPID 2013 kept laser exhibitors’ booths hopping with intense interest. And there’s plenty of good news to share regarding the advancement of laser-driven additive manufacturing.

For instance, Optomec unveiled its LENS 450 system, featuring a 400-watt IPG fiber laser in a smaller footprint ideally suited for metal 3D printing in the lab and classroom. Ken Vartanian, director of marketing for the Albuquerque, N.M.-based firm, says the University of Pittsburgh is the first customer.

Optomec’s LENS — Laser Engineered Net Shaping — systems are capable of building or repairing metal parts. The 450 is the newest addition to the line, which features the 9-foot-tall 850 and the more research-oriented 750.

The smaller work envelope of the 450 can handle 4-cubic-inch parts. “It’s used primarily in the education market,” Vartanian said. “As additive manufacturing is becoming more mainstream, it’s a way that vocational schools and colleges can teach new students.” In fact, the first customer is the University of Pittsburgh.

At Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Dr. Federico Sciammarella indicated that a LENS 850 was used by the school’s Macro/Micro Manufacturing Lab to deposit 12 cubic mm of copper onto a steel substrate at about 10 times the rate anticipated. “We think this could be a feasible process … for rebuilding copper components or manufacturing components,” he noted during his presentation, “Laser Additive Manufacturing of Pure Copper.” But “there’s a lot of work that needs to be done with regard to the thermal energy.”

So far, “a lot of these technologies have found their way into industry,” Sciammarella indicated. “One of the projects that we’ve been working on and recently have filed a patent for — it’s now up for review — is laser-assisted machining of ceramics. We’re using the laser to preheat the ceramic, which is brittle in nature, softening it up and then being able to machine this. We can actually thread ceramics, so we’re working with a company to commercialize this project.”

More progress was noted by Andreas Tulaj of Concept Laser and Dr. Malcolm Ward-Close, a metallurgist who works at Imperial College London and consults for the Italian machinist firm CI-ESSE in Modena. CI-ESSE and Concept Laser are expanding on their seven-year relationship with a new venture called Powderpart in Woburn, Mass., just outside Boston. The two will share the facility in a unique collaboration.

“We’re targeting aerospace and medical,” Ward-Close said. “We’re talking to lots of potential customers in North America who are very pleased about us coming to Boston because it’s so much easier for them.” And orders are already in the pipeline.

Powderpart “will be a manufacturing bureau for us,” he said, while Concept Laser operates a showroom and service center. Concept Laser builds the large-capacity X Line 1000R, featuring a 1 kW fiber laser system developed in conjunction with Daimler and Fraunhofer ILT.

Amplifying such manufacturing coups will be the focus of LIA’s third-annual Lasers for Manufacturing event Sept. 11-12 in Schaumburg, Ill. In addition to learning the basic laser types and systems that can be used profitably in manufacturing, LME attendees will hear keynotes on ultra-high brightness direct diodes, the range of laser processing applications in industry, the market for industrial lasers and applications, and an assessment of the state of ultrafast lasers. View the LME page at LIA’s website for more information.