What you need to pay attention to if you want to purchase a Laser Beam Melting machine

3D printing in practice
Manufacturing & Process
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14 January 2019

There are quite a few things to bear in mind when considering the purchase of a Laser Beam Melting (LBM) machine. Such a purchasing decision is always complex because the choice of a particular machine often involves the choice of a specific ecosystem as well.

It is also important to check beforehand whether the machine can process the right powder. Larger machines are often unable to handle certain types of powder material such as maraging steel (1.2709).


Price tag

Cost is always an important consideration. Smaller machines cost on average GBP 500,000, while larger ones often cost more than GBP 1,500,000. Moreover, additional equipment is required for pre-processing and post-processing. There is also the cost of consumables to consider. Both the equipment and the materials – think of 3D CAD software, metal powder and heat treatment furnaces – can be purchased from most machine manufacturers.

Powder transport: automated or manual?

Another issue concerns the different methods used by manufacturers to transport the powder material. For series production, fully automated systems are usually used. In such an automated system, the powder is passed through tubes to a sieving station for cleaning. The powder is then transported back to the LBM machine for production. The most commonly used powder transport system operates on a container basis, with the powder being fed to the sieving station and then back to the machine. This normally requires human intervention. Although this part of the process can be automated, this seldom occurs in practice because of the high cost and the risk of cross-contamination by powder residues.

Benchmarking

Based on the criteria listed above, it is advisable to carry out a benchmarking exercise for the selected machinery. It is best to use a design that is well-suited to what you want to produce. The benchmark exercise should include qualitative parameters such as surface roughness and porosity as well as economic aspects such as print speed and machine cost. All in all, the purchase of an LBM machine is not an easy decision, so it is often a good idea to involve an expert.

Other important matters to take into account:

  • Ensure that your employees are properly trained
  • Limit the number of materials per machine
  • Choose an optimum process gas with the corresponding delivery concept
  • Take pre- and post-processing into account
  • Consider safety, especially if you are using metal powder

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