Two weeks ago I visited the Fraunhofer Institute of Laser Technik (ILT) in Aachen. The ILT is located directly next to the RWTH Aachen University, making it a massive complex which is still growing rapidly. About 400 researchers are developing lasers and laser applications like laser cutting, laser drilling, laser ablation, laser welding, laser cladding and laser Additive Manufacturing at the ILT.
A special focus is set on Selective Laser Melting technology where research has started on middle of the 90s already. Some ILT customers from industry place research packages at ILTs state of the art research labs to develop process parameters but also technical improvements and technical upgrades on machinery and accessories. Direct metal AM machines are modified with different laser sources up to several kilowatts in continuous wave (CW) and pulsed mode. Spot sizes and shapes are modified, also during the process, to gain higher accuracy and higher productivity. Process monitoring and control are further areas of ILTs research. This project was presented at EUROMOLD 2014 and highlighted that ILT is developing their own visions of the next generation direct metal AM machines. I also met the guys from Acomity3D who I met earlier on my trip at the Laser World of Photonics Munich. As a spin off ACOMITY3D is incorporated in the research labs at ILT but a separate entity. So I got the chance to see the other two machine models ACONITY3D is offering. Beside the machine development ACONITY3D is also offering training an consulting for Additive Manufacturing.
Currently there is a new center for Direct Digital Photonic Production being build next to the current facilities of ILT and RWTH Aachen University. The project supported with € 60 Mio. in government grants highlights the need and will to invest into R&D. Additional investments are coming from over 20 companies who have partnered with the cluster to perform their research in Aachen. The “Digital Photonic Production” research cluster will focus on „Light as a Tool in Production“ to push applications of laser in production and Additive Manufacturing will play a key role.