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Democratizing metal additive manufacturing: Laser Melting Innovations
“To the winner go the spoils….” This well-known phrase applies to business as well as conflict, and if you were to ask the managing director of any manufacturing business what separates the winners from the losers in business its not unlikely, they would cite innovation as a primary indicator of market dominance. Innovation comes in many forms, but of interest to manufacturing businesses are processes or procedures that can lower cost, raise margins or open new markets. In recent years – 3D-Printing, more correctly called additive manufacturing, has been hailed as the harbinger of world of post-assembly-line mass production. Businesses everywhere have been anxious to implement the technology, which promises new forms, lower cost of entry, mass customization and local sourcing while reducing waste and over-production. Additive manufacturing has even been hailed as the biggest change in production since Henry Ford’s assembly line over 100 years ago!
Gateway to Innovations
Small and medium-sized business, however, has been hesitant to invest in the technology due to the relatively high cost of the machinery needed and the steep learning curve associated with designing for additive manufacturing. Its not unreasonable to say that an engineer designing for AM processes needs to completely rethink their designs – and this, combined with the setup costs, initial downtime, and the slow cycle times of AM machinery has relegated additive manufacturing to large companies, primarily in the aerospace and automotive industries. This leaves SMEs – which are traditionally the motor of innovation in industry – at a huge disadvantage because they lack experience with what promises to be one of the key technologies of the 21st century.
Laser Melting Innovations was founded to address this issue. The startup – spun out of the Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen, Germany, offers a metal additive manufacturing machine capable of producing production-quality parts for a fraction of the cost of other powder bed melting machines and promises profitable production in the first year of ownership. The Chair of Digital Additive Production at the RWTH Aachen, Prof. Dr. J.H. Schleifenbaum, who is also an advisor to LMI says:
“LMI wants to offer a low-cost machine which will allow companies to explore this technology profitably from day one, thereby lowering the financial risk associated with implementing metal additive manufacturing in their processes.”
Typically, the laser used in such metal additive manufacturing machines is by far the most expensive part of the machine, often accounting for more than 80% of the overall cost of the machine. By replacing this component with a more common type of laser, LMI was able to reduce the overall cost of their machine by nearly an order of magnitude – bringing the cost to below 100.000€ and ensuring that any company that invests in their machine can be ensured of profitability and normal rates of amortization – despite the fact that they will need to learn new skills to use the technology to its full potential.
Bridging the Gap
Mirjam Henkel, Director of LMI, is as interested in transferring process knowledge as she is in selling machines.
“Additive manufacturing is a revolution for industry – and companies who are not developing in-house process knowledge with it, will find themselves lagging behind their competitors or dependent on third-party solution partners. LMI is offering not just a machine – with this machine, we can help companies bridge the gaps in their additive manufacturing knowledge.”
Having a machine will allow customers to gain experience with metal additive manufacturing – but hardware is only one half of the equation. Despite popular belief – creating the models needed to drive these machines, and the process of preparing them for printing can be a confusing and fractured process consisting of multiple softwares, all at high cost, with various conversions and interfaces throughout. Any change to the part, or to the printing process, requires the user to repeat all steps in that process to be able to begin printing – and most systems have only generic interfaces which do not account for machine-specific characteristics of the machine being used to manufacture the part.
Fusion 360 provides an integrated solution which makes it easy to design a part suitable for additive manufacturing. Using generative design in Fusion 360, even a user who has never designed for additive manufacturing before can realize the massive gains associated with this technology, and the manufacturing capabilities of Fusion 360 can prepare the part for printing with no break in the data chain – allowing for rapid changes in the design and iterations critical for optimization and learning. LMI has integrated their machine into the Fusion 360 interface because they believe it is the best way for their customers to go from an idea to a finished part they can sell.
“Autodesk shares LMI’s vision of providing powerful, innovative technology to businesses, no matter what their size. By integrating the LMI Alpha 140 into Fusion 360 we can help our customers enter this ecosystem profitably.” – M. Henkel
Autodesk is proud to be able to offer Fusion 360 users the ability to drive their manufacturing equipment, be it an Alpha 140, or any number of other additive or subtractive manufacturing machines – and we are especially proud that LMI has chosen us to help them democratize the adoption of metal additive manufacturing with Fusion 360.
See LMI describe their experience with Fusion 360 in their own words here: https://youtu.be/A4OsE2QJqyE
New to Fusion 360? Try it out now.