Optics for Additive Manufacturing

Posted by Steve Rowe on

Printing metal 3D, Additive manufacturing, optics used in 3D printingAdditive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a rapidly growing technology where material is deposited, joined, or solidified using computer design and subsequent control to create a three-dimensional object. Although not a new field, it has expanded from the traditional plastic filament and powder-based substrates to encompass the ability to 3D print aluminum, titanium, iron, nickel, cobalt, and copper-based alloys. Unlike traditional manufacturing that is a subtractive process of material removal from an initial substrate, the process of additive manufacturing is about building incremental layers to achieve the final product. Today, additive manufacturing spans a wide variety of industries from automotive, aerospace, military, manufacturing, and biosciences, as well as healthcare (dentistry, bone replacements, etc.)

The most common metal 3D printing technology is a laser-based, powder-bed fusion process, known in the industry as selective laser melting (SLM). This process makes up about 80% of the metal 3D printing market. SLM is truly novel in its ability to produce objects that are very difficult, if not impossible, to fabricate using traditional manufacturing techniques. It excels in creating components with long or partial thru-holes, internal cavities, contours, tapered geometries, and mesh or lattice structures. In addition, SLM also provides designers with an unprecedented level of speed by which prototypes can be made.

How metal 3D printing works, optics in additive manufacturing, 3D printing metalModern 3D printing platforms are the result of decades of engineering, software, and laser design. The fiber laser delivery system that fuses metal particles as material is deposited is central to the printer’s function and versatility. A combination of mirrors and lenses are used to direct the laser beam with pinpoint accuracy. Importantly, a glass window known as a laser debris shield protects the expensive optical train from the spatter and contaminants that result from the high-power and temperatures associated with the fusing process. The debris shield can therefore be thought of as a sacrificial optic that is required to accurately transmit the laser while providing a high degree of resistance to the laser’s damaging energy.

Advancements in additive manufacturing technology will allow companies to save on material costs, eliminate waste, simplify supply chains, and improve production efficiency. And with Esco’s extensive experience in laser optics, including debris shields and high laser damage threshold coatings, we are ready to partner with companies at the forefront of this dynamic field. We are available anytime to discuss your unique optical requirements.

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