If there’s one trend in manufacturing that most industry observers agree on, it’s that low-volume and custom manufacturing continues to be the order of the day for many manufacturers. Whether the requirements are dictated by medical specifications or the simple desire for a unique product, the ability to produce a product or part to exacting specifications using a variety of materials is no longer a rare request.
Laser Sintering, Anyone?
An additive manufacturing process that accumulates a range of materials one layer at a time, laser sintering adds a special tool the engineer’s toolbox for manufacturing custom and/or highly complex parts.
To help companies meet this demand, Morris Technologies Inc. and its sister company Rapid Quality Manufacturing have begun operating 20 direct metal laser-sintering systems from German producer EOS
Laser-sintering is an additive process that melts materials one layer at a time at high temperatures until the final shape is achieved. The additive process has been growing in leaps and bounds over the past several years because traditional machining, sheet forming or mold/cast technologies typically have limits that affect the geometries and performance characteristics of the products they are capable of producing. Additive manufacturing has reportedly posted double-digit growth in 14 of the 23 years it has been in use. A major reason for this is that the cost of additive manufacturing is typically much lower than traditional production methods, such as machining.
Morris Technologies Inc. (MTI) (www.morristech.com) has been creating parts for major aerospace and medical producers and is now working towards the certification of laser-sintered metals for use in both fields. The parts manufactured by MTI with laser sintering range from lightweight components for military unmanned aerial vehicles to cobalt-chrome hip replacement prototypes. The EOS laser sintering machines used by MTI produce parts and products directly from 3D CAD files.
Others products created by laser sintering include lattice-like systems in plastics for lighting homes and offices, designer shoes with heels of braided titanium (see photo). MTI is even working on creating cranial implants, knees and medical instruments designed around the geometry of individual human bodies and the surgeon’s hands.
The highly automated EOS laser sintering systems are reportedly capable of operating in a lights out automated operation. One of its machines, the EOSINT M 280, for example, is an additive manufacturing machine that uses a solid-state laser (either 200 or 400 watt) and a gas management system for consistent processing conditions and constant part building qualities. The system operates in protective nitrogen and argon atmospheres, allowing it to process a range of materials from light metals to stainless and tooling steel to super alloys.
To read about another manufacturing-related product manufactured using the laser sintering process, see this Automation World article about the new adaptive gripper from Festo.
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