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Fraunhofer IWS to explore benefits of new dynamic beam shaping technology

Fraunhofer IWS in Dresden has begun exploring the additive manufacturing, cutting and welding benefits of dynamic beam shaping based on coherent beam combining (CBC) technology.

The institute expects the technology to overcome the challenges of using crack-sensitive materials in additive manufacturing, in addition to delivering burr-free laser cuts with high edge quality at twice the speed of conventional fibre lasers.

A 13kW ‘Dynamic Beam Laser’ from Israli firm Civan Lasers has been installed at Fraunhofer IWS, making it the first research facility worldwide to employ such a laser. The system’s CBC technology, which is still new for high-power lasers, can generate different energy distribution patterns rapidly during processing. This enables demanding materials to be processed quickly and precisely.

The system works by combining tens of individual beams into one powerful high quality beam. Through small phase shifts of the wave troughs and peaks in the partial beams, the laser can quickly generate completely different energy distribution patterns in the resulting processing laser beam – e.g. a ring, a figure of eight or a horseshoe. 

In principle, this was already possible in the past with beam-deflecting optics or fast oscillating mirrors, but even the fastest oscillating mirrors still need milliseconds to realign the energy patterns in the beam. The Dynamic Beam Laser, on the other hand, accomplishes this a thousand times faster, within microseconds.

Within the European project ‘ShapeAM’ that began this month, Fraunhofer IWS, together with partners Civan Lasers and A. Kotliar Laser Welding Solutions, will investigate the benefits of the technology in additive manufacturing. The partners hope that the testing will provide new application scenarios. 

‘This laser will push the limits of materials processing, for example in medical technology and aerospace,’ predicts Dr Andreas Wetzig, who heads the cutting and joining technology field at Fraunhofer IWS.

Specifically, the project will explore the additive manufacturing of titanium and aluminium alloys, such as those needed for space components, implants and lightweight components for mobility. In doing so, the partners plan to use dynamic beam shaping to eliminate defects and thus achieve higher quality 3D printing results. ‘We plan to use novel beam shapes and control frequencies that are not achievable with other methods to overcome challenges in crack-sensitive materials,’ said Dr Elena Lopez, department head of additive manufacturing at Fraunhofer IWS.

The 13-kilowatt Dynamic Beam Laser can generate energy distribution patterns thousands of times faster during operation compared to conventional mirror-based methods, making it beneficial for metal additive manufacturing. (Image: Fraunhofer IWS)

The tests at the Dresden institute are intended to determine the possibilities and limits of the Dynamic Beam Laser. Basic tests with various beam profiles, materials and processes are initially planned, after which the researchers will evaluate concrete applications, such as how well the system can cut, join or additively manufacture diverse workpieces from materials and material composites that are otherwise difficult to process.

It is already predicted that the new laser will enable faster and more precise control of the melt pool dynamics in many additive and joining processes – and not only across the surface, but also in depth. Fraunhofer IWS also expects the laser to deliver burr-free cuts with high edge quality at twice the speed of conventional fibre lasers.

The quality and speed advantages that are already becoming apparent make the technology highly interesting for use in metal-working, medical device manufacturing and electromobility, as well as in aerospace.

Following its investigations, Fraunhofer IWS intends to make the innovative laser technology available to companies worldwide in the near future.

Learn more about dynamic beam shaping, now on-demand:

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