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USP lasers to rev up 3D printing

The development of a new generation of ultra-short pulse (USP) lasers for 3D printing is expected to make the technology significantly more powerful. Additional applications are also opening up for the industrial sector.

20 Jul. 2018
USP lasers to rev up 3D printing (Photo: Fraunhofer IOF)

The Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology (ILT) and for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering (IOF) are currently working with ten other institutes to develop new USP lasers for additive manufacturin g. The technology is described by the researchers as “disruptive” and is expected to significantly expand the applications of laser-based 3D printing. As part of a Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence named “Advanced Photon Sources”, the participants hope not only to develop a highly precise manufacturing process, but also to harness new pulse duration and wavelength ranges.

Owing to the development of a new generation of pump diodes, the powerful USP lasers should allow the use of new laser media – especially ytterbium-doped fibers and crystals. According to the researchers, this makes them suitable for use in industrial manufacturing and in particular for machining micromaterials. Thanks to their high working speed and precision, only a minimal amount of residual heat remains in the machined material during the production process. Unlike current 100 W USP lasers, the new models (which the researchers hope will push into the 10 kW output range), are expected to be suitable for cutting very hard ceramics and fiber-reinforced plastics for lightweight construction. Researchers at RWTH Aachen are also currently working on optimizing USP lasers so that the technology can be utilized for further industrial applications.