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Fraunhofer ILT spin-off awarded for low-cost LPBF technology

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LMI's low-cost LPBF machine, the Alpha 140

Fraunhofer ILT spin-off Laser Melting Innovations (LMI) is one of the winners of this year’s Formnext Start-up Challenge.

The award is in recognition of the firm’s development of a low-cost laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) system, which has made industry-suitable metallic 3D printing more accessible for SMEs.

A prototype for a low-cost LPBF system was initially presented at Formnext 2016 by Dawid Ziebura, a research associate and project manager at Fraunhofer ILT. The machine was produced as part of a project carried out at the Aachen Center for 3D Printing – a cooperative venture between Fraunhofer ILT and the FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences.

The prototype and the ideas for developing it were met with such enthusiasm at the show that the project participants decided to create LMI as a spin-off company in 2017.

One year later, the start-up company launched its fully functional LPBF machine, the Alpha 140, which – together with the required peripheral parts – costs less than €100,000. The machine offers a reliable, production-scale solution, and is far more productive and powerful than the prototype originally displayed at Formnext.

‘This is the kind of machine SMEs are looking for, and we’re putting it on the market at exactly the right moment,’ commented LMI managing director Mirjam Henkel.

Cheetah hood ornament made of metal, printed with the Alpha 140. (Image Fraunhofer ILT)

The entry-level machine works in an argon/nitrogen inert gas environment and uses an air-cooled, fibre-coupled 200W diode laser with a wavelength of 915nm and a focus diameter of 140µm. It can be used for the additive manufacturing of parts with a maximum height of 200mm and a maximum diameter of 140mm using stainless steel 1.4404, 1.2709 or alloys such as Inconel 625 and 718, CoCr, or AlSi10Mg. It also meets industry requirements for a component density of 99.9 per cent and satisfies special geometry requirements. The compact machine also offers the benefit of a small footprint (1,675 x 815 x 1,508mm³).

In addition to using a low-cost diode laser instead of an expensive fibre laser, the machine also uses a Cartesian-motion laser system, which is more affordable than a scanner system. This Cartesian system also offers a very large construction chamber, which provides the opportunity to use sensors or cameras for quality control purposes.

The company has already sold two pilot systems for use in research. The machine’s versatility will also benefit industry users, however, as it enables process parameters to be flexibly adapted for each part, for example to test new materials.

‘The customer doesn’t just get the machine, but also everything they need to get started,’ said Ziebura. ‘That includes the necessary data preparation software, which we developed in-house, as well as the peripheral equipment required for the process.’

LMI experts will be on hand at booth B81H, Hall 12, at Formnext in Frankfurt, Germany, from November 19-22. The presentation of the Start-up Award will take place on 19 November from 5:15pm on the AM4U stage in Hall 11.0-F71.

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