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A cuppa with Milan Brandt

In celebration of LIA’s 50th anniversary, the organisation asked its president, Milan Brandt, to give his thoughts on laser materials processing – the global trends, research, developments and unique advantages over other technologies

LIA: Welcome Milan and thank you for joining us today. There have been strong projections made for the global laser materials processing market; can you tell us about some of the global trends that you see in laser materials processing applications?

Milan: Laser materials processing globally is focused on and driven by additive manufacturing. In the powder-fed or laser metal deposition area, the trend is more industrial applications, such as repair and refurbishment of high-value components in the aerospace, defence and mining sectors. The research in this area is focused on the printing of large structures and hybrid manufacturing – involving both subtractive and additive processes in one machine. In the powder-bed area, the focus from industrial perspective is on standards, process reliability and process qualification, while from the research perspective, the focus is on new materials for printing, process monitoring, software tools for design for manufacture and new, cheaper and faster printing systems.

LIA: As a professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, can you tell us about some of the significant laser technology developments that were fostered at RMIT under your leadership?

Milan: The Centre for Additive Manufacturing at RMIT researches and develops additive manufacturing technology for the design of parts, materials, and processing to improve the mechanical properties of aircraft structures under fatigue loading conditions, in particular for the repair of those aircraft structures. Some of this research has been transferred to local industry.

LIA: Do you have any laser design concepts that you would like researchers to pursue in the future?

Milan: A limitation of current powder-bed systems is the use of multi-materials in a build. Development of such systems would allow new structures to be designed and manufactured with properties not possible with current technologies. In the powder-bed systems, the ability to manipulate and control the microstructure, as the part is being manufactured, would open up a range of new applications.

LIA: The laser processing market is expected to reach $23 billion by 2025, tell us about some areas where laser materials processing has an advantage over other technologies?

Milan: The main benefits lasers offer to manufacturers compared to other technologies include:

  • The ability to produce a wide range of wavelengths;
  • The ability to produce a wide range of irradiance (power per unit area) levels at the surface of a workpiece, thereby changing the physical state of that surface from solid to melting through a non-contact interaction;
  • The ability to easily manipulate the beam through computer-numerical control techniques, because it has no weight or mechanical contact with the workpiece; and
  • The ability to shape the laser beam on the workpiece, both spatially and temporally, thus enabling processing of a wide range of materials and component shapes.

These translate into, for example, relatively rapid and low heat input processing compared to other metal melting technologies, resulting in microstructures with superior mechanical properties and parts with low residual stresses and distortion. Also, the small laser focus allows for finer structures and features to be manufactured in the powder-bed systems, compared to e-beam technology.

LIA: Do you think the existing laser/photonics research through commercialisation infrastructure is adequate?

Milan: Different countries and regions have different approaches and support for technology commercialisation, so the question is somewhat broad, but in general, I believe that more encouragement, focus and support should be given to new ideas and start-ups in the area.

LIA: How would you describe LIA's role in laser/photonics technology acceptance and growth?

Milan: LIA, in my view, has played a central role in the promotion, education and growth of laser technology and applications globally. I have been an LIA member for 32 years and this has enabled me to not only stay abreast of the latest developments in technology and applications, but also develop global connections and networks in the area. 

LIA: Thank you Milan, it has been our pleasure to have a cuppa with you! 

LIA is The Institute for Photonic Materials Processing Innovation. Our vision is helping to make the world a better place through safe, optimal and novel use of lasers, optics and photonics, including quantum science and technology, and their application to advanced materials.

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