Metal laser melting with Concept Laser at Toolcraft.
German manufacturer of precision parts, Toolcraft is expanding on the growing interest in metal laser melting by offering completely new, low cost possibilities in the additive manufacturing industry.
As the laser melting process has transitioned from a rapid prototyping methods into a recognised manufacturing technology, Toolcraft has made significant investments in the technology by extending its suite of machines twice in the last year alone to include four laser melting machines.
"The industrial metal laser melting market has a lot of potential. Machines, materials, processes, customers and suppliers continue to develop in exciting ways," explained Christoph Hauck, Managing Director of Toolcraft.
The company has recently built up its portfolio by investing in its own measurement technology. This allows Toolcraft to test the quality of the powder as well as the properties of the material once a part has been manufactured. Even before going into production, taking design guidelines into account, Toolcraft will assess the feasibility of the design and make further preparations to the design.
Due to a special construction process in which the laser jumps back and forth between pre-determined melting points, the precision part is produced with a low amount of tension. Production takes place under a protective gas atmosphere depending on the material. In wire cutting, a wire precisely separates the part from the manufacturing plate.
Swirler - aerospace part produced with metal laser melting.
Heat treatment following the full completion of the manufacturing process makes the final workpiece completely free of tension and ensures that it possesses the desired mechanical properties. Depending on the part, it may be necessary to carry out further refinement by milling or turning. The final inspection and optical measuring are performed exclusively by qualified specialists, who can also use non-destructive surface testing equipment to check the part for cracks, overlaps, wrinkles, pores and a lack of fusion.
Toolcraft has been working with Concept Laser GmbH who have been implementing their existing experience with the metal laser melting process for different materials alongside Toolcraft’s strategies and expertise concerning the further processing of parts in machining processes.
Toolcraft constantly works to improve and extend its production capacity with advanced materials. In principle, any material that can be welded can be processed. Toolcraft uses nickel-based alloys such as Inconel 718 and Inconel 625 as well as stainless steels such as 1.4404, 1.4828, 17-4PH and the hot-work steel 1.2709. Since 2013, Toolcraft has been working with the nickel-iron alloy Invar 1.3912, a material with a very low thermal expansion coefficient used in the aerospace sectors, semiconductors and composite manufacturing. The company recently started implementing cobalt-based alloy Haynes 188, which is a combination of cobalt, nickel, chromium and tungsten and suitable for use in the aerospace and motor sports industries. Toolcraft has also begun to use Scalmalloy, a high-strength aluminium alloy produced by the company Airbus APWorks. The material is corrosion-resistant with the specific strength of titanium at a simultaneously high ductility and more than twice as strong as the aluminium-silicon powder currently in use.
Thanks to its wide applicability, Toolcraft can transfer its experience from one industry to the requirements of other sectors. Christoph Hauck, added: “Many attempts are made to make laser melting more commercial. However, above all it requires years of experience in designing parts with regard to the behaviour of materials. This means that the use of qualified specialists will continue to be essential in the future.”