TWI addresses advances in laser technology


Processes such as EHLA cladding technology are on the brink of revolutionising laser material deposition, offering greatly increased rates of production, reduced energy consumption, improved materials consumption, and a lower environmental impact than many traditional methods.

However, for all the benefits these advances look set to deliver, there is a need to address sensor and software capabilities to measure parameters such as beam quality and power to provide feedback about the status of the equipment being used to ensure optimum performance at all times.

TWI additive manufacturing consultant, Carl Hauser recently spoke on the need to address software functions for these new and improved cladding processes, saying:

‘One of the issues is that the software isn’t advancing as much as it should. There are key software houses working to produce software for laser cladding, but because of the diversity of laser metal deposition – it’s used for 3D printing, coatings, repair, etc – there’s no software package available for everything.’

With much of the current software packages originally produced for traditional laser marking and cutting applications, they are not best suited to working with complex surfaces and processes, such as 3D printing. Setting tool paths using software designed for single layers of material means that these new applications require time-consuming tool path creation that is not very automated.

To address this, and create a more automated environment for laser processes, TWI is writing software suited to the increasing number of applications. As Carl explained:

‘We’re looking at improving the automation of our software, putting our knowhow into the technology and into the software as well, so it’s a more automated environment to generate tool paths for the process. This is more of a research tool for us at the moment rather than a commercial product.’

While the software is not yet available on the market, there is every expectation that this will change in the future. There is already interest from a range of industries including aerospace, oil and gas, and power, with repair applications also set to be a large part of the work that these cost-effective, high volume products can solve with the generally decreasing price of laser hardware.

As diode lasers become increasingly widely used, due to their flexibility and low cost compared to fibre lasers, their use in LMD becomes an interesting proposition. Although this is something that still needs some further research, as Carl noted:

‘The beam quality [of a diode laser], however, hasn’t traditionally been as good as a fibre laser, but it has been improving. There hasn’t been a solid systematic study on the merits or the difference between a fibre and a diode laser in additive manufacturing and particularly on the quality of parts built by LMD. At the moment their particular benefits are unclear, as some lasers are better for processing certain materials than others.’

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TWI is a world leading research and technology organisation with a focus on materials, engineering and manufacturing.