A quick glance at the laser-industry headlines on any given day is sure to provide a mention of at least one development in the realm of laser additive manufacturing.
Consider these news items at the beginning of this year alone: Concept Laser launched a LAM research and development center in Germany, while in the US, Mitsubishi and Matsuura unveiled the LUMEX Avance-25 metal laser sintering hybrid milling machine, previously sold only in Japan and Asia. And in a Jan. 14 blog post, the Harvard Business Review asked “Will 3D Printing Cause Traditional Manufacturing to Collapse?”
Where will developments like these lead? What might they mean to increasing the efficiency — and profitability — of manufacturing in the United States and around the world?
That’s where the Laser Institute of America’s sixth annual Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM®) Workshop comes in. LAM 2014, to be held Mar. 12-13 at the Hilton® Houston North in the energy-generation center of Houston, TX, once again will convene top-tier industry experts to discuss the latest advances in powder-bed and powder-fed applications; digital manufacturing for aviation, health care, energy and other industries; and real success stories from job shops that have adopted the so-called “disruptive” technology.
“While powder-fed processes have grown steadily since LAM’s inception six years ago, we add focus this year on the significant progress being made toward industrialization of the powder-bed approach,” said LAM General Chair Jim Sears.
Sears, an additive manufacturing veteran who joined GE’s Global Research Center (GRC) in Niskayuna, NY, about two years ago, has made a career of taking AM to the next level. GE, a regular contributor at LIA conferences, has been making great strides with additive manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace sector. GE plans to produce tens of thousands of fuel nozzles for its LEAP engine through AM. Producing these parts layer by layer instead of from multiple components will make them significantly lighter — and require increasingly powerful 3D printers for maximum production efficiency.
At GRC, “we are looking at the full portfolio of businesses that are using this technology,” Sears said. “We are covering it from all aspects: health care, power (air, gas turbine, nuclear), water, oil and gas, aviation, transportation. GE is definitely taking a leadership role in advancing the technology. But we also know we can’t do it by ourselves; that’s why we’re being as open as we can to try to get people involved” — for instance, through design challenges to external AM designers and engineers.
What You Get From LAM
Whether you’re a first-time attendee or a veteran of one or more of the previous five LAM workshops, LAM 2014 promises another up-to-the-minute picture of the state-of-the-art of additive processes and materials.
“We’re trying to bring interested people up to speed on what’s happening (in laser-based AM), what applications people are looking at and what the prospects are for the future,” Sears asserted. “We offer a directly focused, unique look at the technology.”
Traditional wire and powder cladding and repair methods will be discussed alongside the most cutting-edge opportunities. As always, Sears advised, methods are application-dependent.
“Powder gives you a lot more alloy flexibility; wire is more expensive,” he said. “If you want to put down lots of material, how complex is your shape?”
Shape complexity has been a key theme as AM is used to create increasingly intricate parts and products.
“We like to get more designers involved (at LAM); they are the ones who have to help implement the technology, because it comes from the design. If the designers don’t know about it, we can’t put it into use. We want people to think about how they can take advantage of the technology to improve their designs. That’s the big part of this. Designers will take the lead because they will see how they can extend their designs where they weren’t able to before. I think you are going to see components that play heavily with efficiencies of operation.”
The roster of speakers and exhibitors speaks volumes as to the quality of information on tap at LAM 2014. As of press time, scheduled presentations representing multiple industries and global perspectives included:
- Plenary addresses by Todd Rockstroh, GE Aviation (The Move to Manufacturing with Powder Bed) and David Keicher of Sandia National Labs.
- Martin Leary, RMIT University, Design & Topology Optimization of Components for Laser Additive Manufacture.
- An industry view from Ben Fulcher, Harvest Technologies.
- An international view from Milan Brandt, RMIT University.
- Shawn Kelly of EWI and Ben Ferrar of LPW Technology on AM powders.
In addition, “we have invited service providers to tell their stories and answer the pressing questions: Why did you decide to invest in this technology, and what do you see as your markets?” Sears noted. LAM 2014 will also weed out the hype from the promise: “It’s not going to be used everywhere; it isn’t going to replace every method. Things that don’t have internal complexity probably will still be made conventionally,” like solid shapes that are machinable or castable.
That said, “I think you will see more service centers taking advantage of (LAM) for applications that have never even been thought about. Entrepreneurs will drive the technology base, too.”
Industry leaders lending their support to LAM 2014 include cladding experts Alabama Laser, which is again serving as Platinum Sponsor. Meanwhile, Fraunhofer USA, IPG, Joining Technologies and Tribocor Technologies are sponsoring at the gold level. Laserline and Coherent are Silver Sponsors, while TRUMPF, Optomec, Cambridge Technologies and DM3D Technology are serving as bronze-level supporters.
To get a preview of LAM from your home or office, you can view some key presentations from the 2013 workshop through Laser U, LIA’s exclusive online education channel. Among the available modules are presentations by William O’Neill (Designer Materials Using Supersonic Laser Deposition), Radovan Kovacevic (R&D Work at SMU’s Center for Laser-aided Manufacturing) and Ryan Dehoff (ORNL’s Additive Manufacturing Initiative).
To learn more about LAM 2014 and to register, visit www.lia.org/lam.