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21 January 2014

Concept Laser opens new development centre to drive additive manufacturing development further and faster

Additive layer manufacturing machine maker Concept Laser has opened a new development centre at its headquarters in Lichtenfels, Germany.

The 600 m2 R&D centre increases the capacity for both the testing and development of the LaserCUSING process, which uses laser light, directed using a galvo scanning unit, to fuse metal powder in layers and build metal components that are used across a wide range of industries.

For the company's development engineers, the centre is said to offer the ideal platform, not only for process development, but also for the development of new laser additive manufacturing systems, such as the LaserCUSING System X line 1000R in XXL format that was recently launched by the company.

A further benefit is the ability to facilitate "discrete innovations", meaning that R&D activities can be undertaken whilst respecting bilateral confidentiality requirements. Concept Laser, with its focus on high quality, application-specific system solutions in the fields of medical and dental technology, the automotive industry, tool and mould construction and the aviation and aerospace sector, will, it says, intensify its proven three-phase product development process at the new location.

Florian Bechmann, head of development at Concept Laser, said: "The number of test reports produced by our development department has already risen by 30%, from 2012 to 2013. The new development centre will raise our capabilities to a new level, in terms of time, as well as quality and quantity. As a technology leader, we want to live up to the market's expectations."

Maintaining the position as a technology leader requires ongoing investment and, for Concept Laser, this means that its entire annual surplus is being reinvested in research, development and growth.

Technology in the sector is rapidly developing, an example being the upgrade from 400 to 1,000 W fibre lasers, while the use of two, four or more lasers operating in parallel is another development anticipated. In the case of the latter, a significant improvement the speed of component construction is anticipated.

And Concept Laser adds that it does not just want to be seen as average when it comes to the safety aspects, automation and quality assurance measures that underpin its development process; it wants to continue setting new standards.

Numerous application areas within medical engineering, turbine engineering or within the automotive industry are currently undergoing a significant move away from traditional technologies towards 3D printing processes on an industrial level.

Some of the strongest drivers of this change in thinking are members of European markets, such as Astrium Space Transportation, which is part of the Airbus Group, the German Aerospace Centre and pan-industrial EU projects, such as Amaze. Above all, however, this drive is coming from the NASA environment, right through to large-scale American aircraft manufacturing.

According to Mr Bechmann, the decision to concentrate technical expertise in a central location was also motivated by the enormous increase in customer-specific solutions, which are usually subject to confidentiality. These sensitive projects arise from intensive customer relationships and, as sources of innovation, will be decoupled from the 'normal operations' of the development centre. According to Mr Bachmann: "This will allow discrete innovations to be developed in the necessary seclusion and depth."

Development engineers are now able to work more closely and can conduct tests very rapidly and communicate the results more effectively. The redesigned development facility now houses a larger metallography laboratory and materials testing area. This supports the growing trend of customers formulating special, application-specific requests, as regards the powder materials used; requests that Concept Laser must then translate into validated, certified processes. "These requirements relate to every facet of the areas of process design, quality assurance and safety, especially for reactive materials," Mr Bechmann adds. Concept Laser intends to further expand its recognised expertise in the area of materials and materials certification, it adds.

Andrew Allcock

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