Fraunhofer makes additive manufacturing ready for SMEs

Fraunhofer makes additive manufacturing ready for SMEs

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

What do paper rollers, brake discs for cars and hydraulic cylinders have in common? They all have to be coated. Until now, this usually happens with hard chrome plating or thermal spraying. A team of the Fraunhofer ILT and the RWTH Aachen University has now developed an alternative laser process with extreme high-speed laser welding (EHLA): EHLA is not only 100 to 250 times faster than conventional laser welding, but also environmentally and health-friendly, since it does not make use of toxic chrome (VI).

The trick in EHLA is that the powder is melted before it hits the surface. The molten material bonds materially with the basic material and, in contrast to the hard chrome layer, it cannot flake off.

Shortly before the Laser fair, the EHLA procedure had been honored with the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize. Now it is in the implementation phase: A first large-scale plant has been installed at IHC Vremac Cylinders B.V. in Apeldoorn (Netherlands).

Andres Veldman, Manager Engineering at IHC, is enthusiastic: »The process is significantly faster and achieves a much higher quality than the high-speed flame spraying, the so-called HVOF. In addition, the cost of post-processing is much lower compared to all other technologies. “

Additive processes such as laser welding or 3D printing with metal powders are already industrial. However, they still require investment in the high six-digit range – and not every potential user has equal orders that justify such a high investment.

Here a low-cost system from the Aachen-based research institute starts, enabling production costs many times lower than those of conventional systems. “We want to bring Additive Manufacturing into mid-size enterprises”, explains Professor Johannes Henrich Schleifenbaum from the chair for Digital Additive Production (DAP) of the RWTH Aachen University. “In addition to that, we offer the necessary training.”

The training at the Fraunhofer ILT usually takes 2 to 5 days, then the equipment can be fully utilized with various metal powders. In addition to a diode laser with a power of 140 W, the 4-axis system includes a protective gas device and an open-source control software.

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