The advent of laser technology has been a key enabler for industrial 3D printing, known as Additive Manufacturing (AM). Despite its commercial success and unique technical capabilities, laser-based AM systems are not yet able to produce parts with the same accuracy and surface finish as CNC machining. To enable the geometry and material freedoms afforded by AM, yet achieve the precision and productivity of CNC machining, hybrid combinations of these two processes have started to gain traction.
To achieve the benefits of combined processing, laser technology has been integrated into mainstream CNC machines - effectively repurposing them as hybrid manufacturing platforms. This paper reviews how this engineering challenge has prompted beam delivery innovations to allow automated changeover between laser processing and machining, using standard CNC tool changers. Handling laser-processing heads using the tool changer also enables automated change over between different types of laser processing heads, further expanding the breadth of laser processing flexibility in a hybrid CNC. This paper highlights the development, challenges and future impact of hybrid CNCs on laser processing.