Project Content

futureAM – Next Generation Additive Manufacturing

Project Structure

Structure and fields of activity of the futureAM lighthouse project.
© Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft e. V., Munich, Germany.

Structure and fields of activity of the futureAM lighthouse project.

To ensure technological leadership, the six institutes of futureAM will systematically develop additive manufacturing in four fields of activity, each coordinated by one institute:

  1. Industry 4.0 and Digital Process Chains
  2. Scalable and Robust AM Processes
  3. Materials
  4. System Technology and Automation

The lighthouse project has set itself ambitious goals within its four fields of activity: for example, novel software for automated AM component identification and optimization, a scalable LPBF (Laser Powder Bed Fusion) plant concept increasing productivity (by a factor > 10), a process and system technology for generating spatially resolved, customized multi-material properties and an autonomous manufacturing cell for the post-treatment of AM components.

The cooperation platform has not only been created through intensive cooperation in and between the individual fields of activity, but in particular through the establishment of a “Virtual Lab”. For this purpose, all partners will participate in developing technology demonstrators.

Industry 4.0 and Digital Process Chains

Field of activity 1
Coordination: Fraunhofer IAPT

Scalable and Robust AM Processes

Field of activity 2
Coordination: Fraunhofer ILT

Materials

Field of activity 3
Coordination: Fraunhofer IWS

System Technology and Automation

Field of activity 4
Coordination: Fraunhofer IWU

 

“Virtual Lab” and Demonstrators

Industry 4.0 and Digital Process Chains

Scalable and Robust AM Processes

Field 2 focuses on the development of scalable and robust AM processes. The vertical process chain lacks new concepts for the scalability of AM processes in terms of build-up rate and component size (especially for the Laser Powder Bed Fusion LPBF, also known as Selective Laser Melting SLM), in order to achieve cost-effectiveness even for larger quantities. In addition, direct fault detection during the manufacturing process is a previously unsolved problem.

A new processing head for LPBF have been developed, which also generates large metal components additively up to ten times faster than conventional LPBF systems. The LPBF system offers a very large, effectively usable build volume (1000 mm x 800 mm x 500 mm).
© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany.

A new processing head for LPBF have been developed, which also generates large metal components additively up to ten times faster than conventional LPBF systems. The LPBF system offers a very large, effectively usable build volume (1000 mm x 800 mm x 500 mm).

Not only suitable for coating rotationally symmetrical components: The EHLA process is now being further developed for additive manufacturing of 3D geometries.
© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany.

Not only suitable for coating rotationally symmetrical components: The EHLA process is now being further developed for additive manufacturing of 3D geometries.

Machine with multi-diode laser system. Multi-beam source systems are used to increase productivity.
© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany.

Machine with multi-diode laser system. Multi-beam source systems are used to increase productivity.

Large aerospace component manufactured with a specially designed LPBF machine.
© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany.

Large aerospace component manufactured with a specially designed LPBF machine.

Scalable LPBF system concept with productivity increase by a factor of 10

As part of futureAM, the scientists at the Fraunhofer ILT have developed a machine concept for the LPBF of large metal components. A new laser head was developed for the laboratory system with a very large, effectively usable build volume (1000 mm x 800 mm x 500 mm), which increases productivity by a factor of 10 compared to conventional LPBF systems.

 

EHLA for Additive Manufacturing

A multi-award-winning technology is involved in “Extreme High-Speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA)”, which can coat, repair or additively manufacture components in a particularly economical and environmentally friendly way. This technology has already proven its worth by applying thin protective layers, for example on meter-long offshore cylinders at high speeds. So far, EHLA has been used only in rotationally symmetric parts. The next step is to create 3D geometries. For this purpose, a prototype machine is being built in Aachen, where the workpiece is moved in a highly dynamic manner with up to five times the gravitational acceleration under the EHLA powder nozzle.

 

Direct Error Detection

In addition, the Aachen scientists are working on new methods for monitoring the 3D printing of metals in order to increase process robustness. With structure-borne sensors in the construction platform, critical events, such as when support structures tear off, are detected in the future. Ultrasonic sensors are also used to analyze airborne sound in order to determine component quality. Research into laser-based ultrasound measurement will go a step further in the future: a pulsed laser will induce structure-borne noise in the component, which in turn will be detected by a laser vibrometer. Tiny pores on the spot should be found in order to be able to intervene immediately. The in-situ measurement process should, for example, make it possible to rework problem areas with another exposure sequence.

 

Process Robustness and Extreme Build-Up Rates

The increase in process robustness is achieved by integrating quality assurance tools in (hybrid) production systems, e.g. for geometric recording and in-situ process analysis. In addition to inline measurement and quality assurance, the identification of a robust process window for various materials, machines, beam sources etc. is indispensable for area-wide industrial use.

The development of a process for volume build-up with Laser Material Deposition LMD with extreme build-up rates aims at reducing the €/cm³ price of the built-up material.

Quality assurance of powders.
© Fraunhofer IFAM, Bremen, Germany.

Quality assurance of powders.

Powder modification.
© Fraunhofer IFAM, Bremen, Germany.

Powder modification.

Quality assurance of powders

The aim is to develop an inline quality assurance system for powders using measurement methods positioned in the immediate vicinity of the manufacturing process. The idea behind this research arose from the knowledge that powders, especially their size distribution, are asymmetrically distributed by vibration during transport. Accordingly, it must be ensured that the production systems are continuously supplied with the same powder quality. The goal is achieved by simulating the transport behaviour with subsequent powder control. IFAM Bremen has developed a test bench for this purpose and tests various materials.

 

Powder modification

High powder prices result in high production costs. Most LPBF processes, however, require spherical powder for the perfect production of components. The aim of developing and testing modification processes that open up powders from alternative manufacturing routes for AM application is to increase competitiveness compared with conventional production methods. Various modification methods are being tested at the IFAM to support the flowability of the powders

 

Materials

In the futureAM research area “Materials”, the Fraunhofer scientists are focusing on two principal objectives:

  1. To significantly expand the spectrum of additively processable materials: The focus here is on hardly weldable high-performance alloys, such as nickel-based superalloys.
  2. To develop innovative methods which allow processing multiple materials within one component: for not only lighter but also more cost-effective components.
By means of laser powder build-up welding, components made of different materials can be integrally manufactured. Thus, specific materials can be placed exactly where their properties are required. This offers, for example, the prospect of lighter, better and cost-reduced blades for gas turbines.
© Fraunhofer IWS, Dresden, Germany.

By means of laser powder build-up welding, components made of different materials can be integrally manufactured. Thus, specific materials can be placed exactly where their properties are required. This offers, for example, the prospect of lighter, better and cost-reduced blades for gas turbines.

EDX-Mapping: The chemical analysis of a test geometry proves the material transition. The colors illustrate the continuous transition from the cobalt-based alloy Merl 72 to the nickel-based superalloy IN 718 (yellow: cobalt, blue: nickel, orange: aluminum).
© Fraunhofer IWS, Dresden, Germany.

EDX-Mapping: The chemical analysis of a test geometry proves the material transition. The colors illustrate the continuous transition from the cobalt-based alloy Merl 72 to the nickel-based superalloy IN 718 (yellow: cobalt, blue: nickel, orange: aluminum).

In order to push the Additive Manufacturing of advanced materials, the researchers investigate the relationships between process parameters, process conditions and material properties. Nickel-based alloys are regarded as difficult to non-weldable. A stable welding process can only be achieved if all parameters and boundary conditions, such as temperature, material, feed rate etc. are precisely adjusted. All influencing parameters must be adjusted exactly to find the correct recipe. In addition, during the research process huge amounts of data are generated (“big data”), causing difficulties for humans in understanding them. In order to nevertheless identify hidden correlations in the signal floods, the Fraunhofer experts use advanced methods of “artificial intelligence” (AI) and “machine learning”. Over time, these machines learn to decide independently. For example, they detect for themselves whether a slight rise in temperature during the welding process can be tolerated or whether they must take immediate countermeasures before a component has to be classified as defect.

 

Result 1: Laser welds nickel-based alloys

The Fraunhofer scientists succeeded in defect-free processing MAR-M 247, the nickel-based alloy considered to be non-weldable. For this purpose, they used the laser deposition welding process. The processing turned out challenging as the usable process windows are very small. For example, these alloys crack quickly when during solidification. An induction system developed at Fraunhofer IWS was used, enabling the process conditions to be tailored to the respective application. In order to meet the thermal conditions, a thorough understanding of the process is necessary in order to ensure that the exact application can be created after detailed series of tests.

Result 2: Laser deposition welding permits multi-material design

An additional insight in this context is that a component can be tailored from various materials without subsequent joining processes. The Fraunhofer researchers succeeded in producing a graded material transition from Inconel 718 to Merl 72. Different features can not only be realized, but also different materials can be placed in the component exactly where they are best suited for the later application. The futureAM researchers thus opened the door to new functionalities and applications, which cannot be developed with conventional designs. These developments enhance possibilities for manufacturing high performance components such as lighter and high temperature resistant turbine blades.

Integration of new material concepts by means of a “modular material system”.
© Fraunhofer IFAM, Bremen, Germany.

Integration of new material concepts by means of a “modular material system”.

Integration of new material concepts

Currently, relatively few materials are commercially available. Steels that have not yet been processed are to be produced by additive powder mixing. A “modular material system” is being developed for this purpose. This contains master alloys, element powders, but also pre-alloyed steels to which other powders can be added in order to adapt certain properties.

System Technology and Automation