A drone hovers in the sky above the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen. It films 50 employees from the “Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF)” department from above as they stand together and form the number 25. The anniversary of the basic patent for LPBF marks an occasion for a video clip: 25 years ago, only one Fraunhofer ILT researcher was actively working on the project and the patent for metallic 3D laser printing was filed in 1996.
“This is an auspicious occasion for a retrospective and outlook on our technology,” Jasmin Saewe says, head of the LPBF competence area at Fraunhofer.
In LPBF, the metal powder is applied using a scraper and the laser beam is guided along calculated paths over the powder bed. As the laser melts the metal powder, the workpiece is produced layer by layer in the intended shape.
The LPBF process makes it possible to produce complex functional components in a way that is both economical and efficient. Furthermore, the production costs depend less on the geometrical complexity, but mainly on the volume of the component. What was so special about the idea at the time was to focus on materials with interesting applications, such as cobalt-chromium alloys for dental implants, and then to adapt the process accordingly. Today, LPBF is used in a wide range of industrial applications, from turbomachinery and automotive engineering to aerospace and medical technology. In 2019, the global market for additive manufacturing of metals – including system, material and service sales – is estimated at around €2 billion. LPBF accounts for over 80 percent of the market for additive manufacturing with metals, making it the dominant on the market for metallic 3D printing.
The three Inventors certain: "Within the next 20 years, LPBF will play an even greater role. We thinking of the automotive sector in particular!"
March 18, 2020
At the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, we place the highest priority on the safety and health of our employees, customers and visitors. Hence, in connection with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Fraunhofer ILT has set up a crisis management team and is implementing the guidelines of the German authorities.