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Laser metal fusion – benefits, working principles, and applications of the additive technology

Laser metal fusion is an additive manufacturing method where a workpiece is built up gradually in a powder bed. To do so, a laser melts down the metal powder in material layers precisely at the points specified by the component's CAD construction data. The process is therefore often known as metal 3D printing/3D printing; the terms laser sintering and laser metal fusion are also common in the industry. The process is optimally suited for series production of geometrically complex parts with delicate internal channels and cavities that cannot be produced using conventional processes such as turning or milling or can only be produced ineffectively. Components which exhibit high stability as well as a low weight are created using industrial 3D printing – this is particularly beneficial for lightweight design or customized implants and prostheses. Furthermore, laser metal fusion is a sustainable production method, as, compared to ablative processes, no chips (and therefore little excess material) is created. With almost two decades of experience in additive technology, TRUMPF provides complete packages for powder bed processes that are mature for industry – consisting of machines, services, and digitalization from a single source. From part identification to the finished product and beyond – we cover the entire process chain for you.

Function integration

Users can directly create functional components – e.g. flexible or rotatable structures – from 3D CAD models using LMF.

Conformal cooling

Using LMF, components with conformal cooling can be produced. They dissipate the heat right where it is created.

Lattice structures

Additive manufacturing allows you to construct delicate structures in a complex arrangement.

Design for additive manufacturing

Freedom in design: During 3D printing, the design determines the production of the component – unlike in conventional production processes.

Productivity

Practically no setup time is required in the case of 3D printing. Due to the option of multilaser and the automation components, you can further increase the efficiency of your production.

Efficiency

The industrial part and powder handling from TRUMPF increases the productivity of your production.

Cleanliness

A closed powder circuit ensures a clean and safe production environment.

The laser metal fusion process explained in brief

The laser metal fusion process starts with the virtual 3D model of the component. During data preparation, the design data is converted into a build job file that can be read by the machine. In doing so, the components are positioned on the substrate plate and, if required, support structures are attached. For the printing process, the components are broken down into individual layers (slices) and the corresponding laser paths are defined (hatching). The workpiece is finally built up layer-by-layer in the process chamber under shielding gas on a substrate plate. In the chamber, the supply cylinder, build cylinder, and overflow cylinder are next to one another in one axis. The recoater shifts the powder from the supply cylinder to the build cylinder (1). The laser then melts the first layer of powder according to the part contour in a way that is firmly bonded with the layer below (2). In the next step, the build cylinder is lowered by one layer (3). The component is, in a manner of speaking, constructed in the powder bed. The excess powder lands in the overflow cylinder. This process is repeated until the component has been generated completely. In order to increase productivity, TRUMPF uses multiple lasers that work simultaneously in its systems. This is referred to as a multilaser principle. Metal powder is finally removed from the finished part in an unpacking station. The component is then separated from the plate, the support structures, if present, are removed, and, if required, the workpiece is reworked.

Operating principle of laser metal fusion (laser sintering) explained using a functional diagram.

The operating principle of metal 3D printing explained in brief.


Applications and areas of use – as diverse as the technology itself

Additively manufactured, individual cranial implants made from titanium

Cranial implant

Laser metal fusion meets the high quality and safety requirements when it comes to the production of medical devices and implants. The shown personalized cranial implant made from titanium was produced in 8 hours and 45 minutes and with almost 5,000 layers, for example.

Lightweight design of a mounting bracket generated with a TruPrint 1000

Mounting bracket

In aerospace engineering, lightweight design while maintaining a good flow of forces within the workpiece is of utmost importance. This topology-optimized design can be produced easily using powder bed processes – as with the mounting bracket for airplane doors shown. It was built up within 8 hours and with almost 2,700 layers.

Additively manufactured hydraulic block with TruPrint machines from TRUMPF

Hydraulic block

The hydraulic block shown is used for coupling between the control valve and the hydraulic cylinder. If it is produced with the laser metal fusion method, its total volume can be reduced by 80% and the pressure loss can be reduced by 93% – without any loss of function. The construction process was carried out without any support structures and was completed in eleven hours.

Runner

Five single parts would conventionally be required to produce this runner. In the case of laser metal fusion, you produce the finished component directly. Close-contour, complex tempering channels can be generated easily using LMF. Moreover, customers benefit from cycle time reduction and thermally stable production processes with a minimal reject rate. The runner in the image was produced within 70 hours.

Axle support

In the automotive industry, complex, functional prototypes can be constructed quickly and without any tools using laser metal fusion. Additive manufacturing of the design and topology-optimized axle support shown took five hours.

Dental product produced with the TruPrint 1000

Dental plates

The dental industry also benefits from the many advantages of additive manufacturing. Any desired complex indications can be constructed highly precisely and in record time layer-by-layer with bio-compatible material. The dental pad with dental crowns shown was produced within six hours with around 1,200 layers.

Component from the R&D field

During application or parameter development, the build job shown is used. In doing so, the long rods are processed to form tensile test specimens after they have been cut from the substrate plate. They can be used to inspect the strength and deformability of the component. After cutting and grinding, the other square components are checked for potential fine defects under the microscope. In both cases, this is in order to assure the quality of the components.

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Which products are suitable for laser metal fusion?

Laser metal fusion (LMF)

Laser metal fusion is often called metal 3D printing, powder bed fusion, or selective laser melting. The laser builds up the workpiece layer by layer from a powder bed. A CAD model provides the plan. Tools are not required. The powder is applied to a build platform. The laser beam melts the powder very precisely according to CAD data and connects defined points with the layer below. The laser repeats this process until the metal part is finished. The workpiece has the characteristics of the material used in powder form. A large number of metal materials can be used in powder form, e.g. steel, aluminum, or titanium.

Component generation using laser metal fusion

Advantages of laser metal fusion

As a supplement to conventional production methods, the LMF method offers a number of advantages. There are virtually no limits on the design freedom, which enables complex forms and custom components to be produced quickly, cost-effectively, and with flexibility. When conventional production methods reach their limits, LMF can provide the answer. It enables cost-effective production, even for small lot sizes.

Radial turbine blower built with TruPrint 3000 (LMF)

Areas of application

The components produced using this method meet stringent material requirements for demanding applications. As a result of the components' stability and low weight, the method is ideal for lightweight designs and bionic structures, such as those found in the aviation and aerospace, automotive, and medical technology sectors.

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