LAM 2011: A timely conference

Growing attendance points to growing mainstream use of technology

By Paul Denney

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Courtesy: Joining Technologies
An article from The Economist unknowingly set the stage for the LIA's third Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM 2011) conference on February 16 and 17. The article, "Print Me a Stradivarius" by Terry Wohler from the February 12 issue, discussed the "digital" fabrication of parts from various materials instead of the traditional machining of parts. A major portion of the "digital" fabrication technology is LAM.

In his article, Wohler predicts that "3D printing" of parts may be responsible for 50% of fabricated parts by 2020 and is being driven in that direction due to forces such as fuel savings, where 1 kg of weight savings could mean $3,000/year fuel savings in aerospace applications. LAM 2011 focused on the use of lasers in "additive" applications, including rapid prototyping, digital manufacturing, tailored surfacing, and repair/refurbishing.

Held at the Sheraton (North) Hotel in Houston, TX, the conference has grown to 170 participants, an almost 30% increase over last year. This increase occurred even with shortening the time since last year's conference to only nine months. The conference included attendees from 15 countries representing, more than 20% of all attendees. Having the conference in Texas where LAM is used to clad components for the oil and gas industry may have had a direct influence on the greatest number of attendees coming from the Lone Star State, while the second and third largest contingencies came from Connecticut and Michigan, respectively (FIGURE 1).

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FIGURE 1. Attendees at LAM 2011 listen to a presentation.

The conference continues to educate attendees on the latest "state-of-the-art" technologies in the area of additive manufacturing. This is accomplished through 25 presentations over two days and interaction with 25 vendors. In addition, attendees had the opportunities to network with experts in the technology.

The first day of the conference started with a keynote presentation by Prof. Minlin Zhang of the Tsinghua University titled "Overview of Laser Additive Manufacturing in China". His presentation summarized where and what research is being accomplished in China. There are more than 40 research labs with five major topic areas; companies supplying systems (more than 10 integrators of systems); and companies involved in applying the technology (more than 50 companies providing cladding services alone). Of special interest was the support of the technology by the Chinese government, which has launched a national program in the area of re-manufacturing for "recycling industry" (FIGURE 2).

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FIGURE 2. Prof. Minlin Zhang of the Tsinghua University presented the keynote on Feb 16.

The second day’s keynote presentation, "Overview of the History of Rapid Prototyping to Direct Manufacturing," was by Prof. David Bourell from the University of Texas. As a holder of more than 14 patents and a recognized expert in laser sintering, Bourell presented a historical look at direct laser sintering (DLS). The technology, based on a "powder bed," layer by layer build up, has been used for the fabrication of prototype and functional components.

In addition to the two keynote presentations, there were an additional 23 presentations that ranged from the latest in LAM research to success stories in the use of LAM by various industries. Here is a summary of four of the presentations:

"Laser Cladding for Component Remanufacturing in the Mining Industry" was the title of the presentation by Ms. Kristin Schipull of the Caterpillar Remanufacturing Group in Fargo, N.D. Schipull’s presentation documented Caterpillar's extensive efforts in re-manufacturing using laser cladding. She reported that their facility in Fargo works on 600,000 pounds of hardware/day with more than 115,000 pounds of cladding in 2010. To date their work has focused on rebuilding worn and/or damaged surfaces of high value mining components such as axle housings for their mining trucks. Recently Caterpillar has also been investigating the use of laser cladding to increase the life of new mining and construction equipment.

"New Industrial Systems and Concepts for Highest Laser-Cladding Efficiency" was the original title of the presentation of Prof. Eckhard Beyer, Fraunhofer IWS. However he stated that he wanted to shift from "efficiency" to "high-performance laser cladding". As such, his presentation focused on efforts at the Fraunhofer Institute in Dresden, which has been working on methods to increase the deposition rate for cladding to levels comparable to other non-laser based technologies. During his presentation Beyer discussed the use of induction heating in front of the cladding operation, which allows for either higher deposition rates or the use of lower power/cost laser systems. He reported that it may be possible to achieve 30 kg/hr deposition rates with 10 kW in laser power using induction heating and high deposition nozzle designs and optics.

"The Use of Laser Additive Technologies at GE: Applications & Challenges" was the invited paper of Dr. Magdi Azer, GE Global Research. The presentation showed how GE's efforts in LAM has changed over the years. GE had been involved in "powder fed" laser processing for the repair/refurbishment of components since the late 1980s, especially in the aerospace portion of the company. The technology continues to be used today, but in 2005 GE started examining direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). Originally used to fabricate components for test engines, the process is expected to be used to manufacture commercial components by 2013. The advantage that GE sees in DMLS is that very complex components can be fabricated that can not economically be produced by traditional methods. The resulting DMLS parts have lower "buy-to-fly" cost and may actually weigh less. This ultimately impacts the purchase and operating costs for jet engines.

"Laser Cladding Repair for Power Generation" was an update by Andrew Dugan of Hardchrome Engineering on a technology reported at LAM 2009 by Prof. Milan Brandt. The technology, an in-situ laser clad repair of steam turbine blades for power plants, had the advantage over other technologies because a cobalt hardfacing material could be applied to the eroded edge of a steam generator turbine plate without removing it from the hub. This decreased the time for the repair of a set of blades on a turbine to between two to four weeks while at the same time increased the life of the turbine blades. This application showed how a research effort could be transitioned from the lab into a company that will provide the LAM process as an industrial service.

In addition to the technical presentations, attendees were able to meet with 25 vendors during breaks in the conference and at a reception held on the evening of February 16 (FIGURE 3).

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FIGURE 3. Vendors and attendees networked at the Vendor’s Reception at LAM 2011.

The vendors included laser manufacturers, powder/materials producers, research organizations, and service providers. A major announcement occurred during the vendors’ reception, which was the signing of a cooperation agreement between Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) (Aachen, Germany) and Joining Technologies of Granby, CT. The agreement formed the Joining Technologies Research Center (JTRC), which will offer a range of services from feasibility studies via process development, validation and certification, to systems engineering and system integration of a final industrial implementation at a customer’s site building off the many years of Fraunhofer’s experience and Joining Technologies industrial efforts in the U.S.

With the success of LAM 2011, plans for LAM 2012 are already underway. Jim Naugle, Marketing Director for LIA, stated that LAM 2012 is planning to be back in Houston, TX, again next year with the exact date not set. The challenge will be to continue to present information of value to the attendees.

This review was prepared for Industrial Laser Solutions by Paul Denney (paul_denney@lincolnelectric.com), senior laser applications engineer for Lincoln Electric, Cleveland, OH. He served as general chair of LAM 2011.

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