Additive manufacturing processes have now developed into an entirely new industry for producing 3D solid objects by adding individual layers of material. These processes all utilize recent dramatic improvements in computing power and motion and process control to deposit a range of materials accurately at high speed. Two of the processes employing IPG lasers are LMD (Laser Metal Deposition) and Selective Laser Melting (SLM). The other laser technique known as stereolithography (SLA) uses shorter wavelength lasers to locally photopolymerize a liquid. The term 3D printing initially referred to another non-laser process known as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) but this term has recently been popularized and is now sometimes used to refer to the whole industry.
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Selective Laser Melting (SLM) or the closely related Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) differ only in that in SLM complete melting of the powder is achieved as opposed to simply fusing the powder together as happens in the SLS technique. SLM therefore produces fully dense metallic parts with improved mechanical properties. All of these techniques use a bed of powder that is refreshed after each layer is laser fused. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is a related powder bed technique. Single-mode fiber lasers in the range from several hundred Watts to 1 kW are used for these applications.
The second technique that utilizes fiber lasers is known as Laser Metal Deposition (LMD). In this case, a powder is fed co-axially through a nozzle into the focused laser spot and fully dense functional metallic components can be produced.
As materials and processes have improved, additive manufacturing processes can produce fully functional molds or short runs of functional components directly from CAD data. Because larger AM components can take several hours to complete, the stability and reliability of fiber lasers has been pivotal in the development of these laser based techniques. Similarly, IPG fiber lasers at the multi kilowatt power level are essential for the development of systems and processes with faster powder build-up or powder deposition rates. It is widely thought that the use of higher power fiber lasers will therefore lead to reduced cost and lead times for large custom components.
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