Additive manufacturing in the laser spotlight

The March/April issue of Industrial Laser Solutions focuses on additive manufacturing using laser-deposited metal.

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As this issue went to press, the business world was still grappling with the economic impact and the consequences of the Coronavirus on the global manufacturing sector, especially within China as the originating site. And being extremely narrow-minded, it may be months before we can measure the impact of unplanned business closures integral to this country's position as the largest single market for industrial laser products.

I have lived through two of the most recent largest global flu epidemics: the Asian flu of 1957-1958, which slowed me for weeks while trying to start a new U.S. welding company, and SARS in 2002-2003 when flying around China, through checkpoints at airports, and train stations (especially as I popped in and out of Hong Kong).  During the latter, I stood in line for a temperature checks, dreading a command for a more in-depth diagnosis, which might lead to quarantine in Shenzhen, half a world away from home. I can empathize with those who have been quarantined for the Coronavirus.

As reported in January/February 2020 issue of Industrial Laser Solutions, China had already felt the effects of a manufacturing slowdown in early 2019 with revenues of China’s leading laser companies dropping by double digits, primarily as a result of imposed tariffs. On the recovery from this, they now were impacted by factory closures caused by the virus. However, some observers anticipate first-half year financial results could be stronger, as built-up buying pressures may boost laser system revenues.

The theme of this issue is additive manufacturing using laser-deposited metalthe laser is key to producing a controlled beam of photon energy necessary to efficiently melt metals to be deposited. I have first-hand experience, dating from my days at Avco Everett Metalworking Lasers, where my applications team, led by Dan Gnanamuthu, conducted some of the first high-power laser cladding work (US3952180) that was predecessor to its use in additive manufacturing.

Five contributed features will bring readers a laser-oriented view of state-of-the art laser additive manufacturing technology. David Richter (Universal Laser Systems) provides insights into selecting subtractive technology to work alongside additive manufacturing systems, to maximize the benefits (see article). And, Timothy Simpson (Penn State University) describes procedures for companies transitioning metal additive manufacturing into production as they gain confidence in the process and its capabilities (see article).

Then, Stan Ream (EWI) explains the development of a totally reflective, omnidirectional, coaxial optic with virtually unlimited laser power capability promise for achieving a higher deposition rate solution in additive manufacturing processes (see article). On a practical level, Milan Brandt (RMIT University) shows how laser additive manufacturing produces patient- and bone-specific implants based on lattice structures, which offer advantages over traditional solid implants (see article), while Andreas Thoss (THOSS Media) introduces a German solution to raise additive manufacturing speed, decrease powder consumption, and reduce postprocessing.

On a different subject, Ron Schaeffer (HH Photonics), in Part 2 of his ultrashort-pulse laser report, lists suppliers of optics, motion components, and contract ultrafast laser processing services (see article). Also, the theme of the upcoming May/June 2020 issue is laser welding. You won’t want to miss this update on a resurgent application.

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