The 3D metal printing processes are key technologies for the new industry manufacturing requirements, as small lot production associated with high design complexity and high flexibility are needed towards personalization and customization. The main challenges for these processes are associated to increasing printing volumes, maintaining the relative accuracy level and reducing the global manufacturing time. Through a review on current technologies and solutions proposed by global patents new design solutions for 3D metal printing machines can be suggested. This paper picks up current technologies and trends in SLM and suggests some design approaches to overcome these challenges. As the SLM process is based on laser scanning, an increase in printing volume requires moving the scanner over the work surface by motion systems if printing accuracy has to be kept constant. This approach however does not contribute to a reduction in manufacturing time, as only one laser source will be responsible for building the entire work piece. With given technology limits in galvo based laser scanning systems, the most obvious solution consists in using multiple beam delivery systems in series, in parallel or both. Another concern is related to the weight of large work pieces. A new powder recoater can control the layer thickness and uniformity and eliminate or diminish fumes. To improve global accuracy, the use of a pair of high frequency piezoelectric actuators can help in positioning the laser beam. The implementation of such suggestions can contribute to SLM productivity. To do this, several research activities need to be accomplished in areas related to design, control, software and process fundamentals.
The process observation in selective laser melting (SLM) focuses on observing the interaction point where the powder is processed. To provide process relevant information, signals have to be acquired that are resolved in both time and space. Especially in high-power SLM, where more than 1 kW of laser power is used, processing speeds of several meters per second are required for a high-quality processing results. Therefore, an implementation of a suitable process observation system has to acquire a large amount of spatially resolved data at low sampling speeds or it has to restrict the acquisition to a predefined area at a high sampling speed. In any case, it is vitally important to synchronously record the laser beam position and the acquired signal. This is a prerequisite that allows the recorded data become information. Today, most SLM systems employ f-theta lenses to focus the processing laser beam onto the powder bed. This report describes the drawbacks that result for process observation and suggests a variable retro-focus system which solves these issues. The beam quality of fiber lasers delivers the processing laser beam to the powder bed at relevant focus diameters, which is a key prerequisite for this solution to be viable. The optical train we present here couples the processing laser beam and the process observation coaxially, ensuring consistent alignment of interaction zone and observed area. With respect to signal processing, we have developed a solution that synchronously acquires signals from a pyrometer and the position of the laser beam by sampling the data with a field programmable gate array. The relevance of the acquired signals has been validated by the scanning of a sample filament. Experiments with grooved samples show a correlation between different powder thicknesses and the acquired signals at relevant processing parameters. This basic work takes a first step toward self-optimization of the manufacturing process in SLM. It enables the addition of cognitive functions to the manufacturing system to the extent that the system could track its own process. The results are based on analyzing and redesigning the optical train, in combination with a real-time signal acquisition system which provides a solution to certain technological barriers.
An innovative optical train for a selective laser melting based manufacturing system (SLM) has been designed under the objective to track the course of the SLM process. In this, the thermal emission from the melt pool and the geometric properties of the interaction zone are addressed by applying a pyrometer and a camera system respectively. The optical system is designed such that all three radiations from processing laser, thermal emission and camera image are coupled coaxially and that they propagate on the same optical axis. As standard f-theta lenses for high power applications inevitably lead to aberrations and divergent optical axes for increasing deflection angles in combination with multiple wavelengths, a pre-focus system is used to implement a focusing unit which shapes the beam prior to passing the scanner. The sensor system records synchronously the current position of the laser beam, the current emission from the melt pool and an image of the interaction zone. Acquired data of the thermal emission is being visualized after processing which allows an instant evaluation of the course of the process at any position of each layer. As such, it provides a fully detailed history of the product This basic work realizes a first step towards self-optimization of the manufacturing process by providing information about quality relevant events during manufacture. The deviation from the planned course of the manufacturing process to the actual course of the manufacturing process can be used to adapt the manufacturing strategy from one layer to the next. In the current state, the system can be used to facilitate the setup of the manufacturing system as it allows identification of false machine settings without having to analyze the work piece.