Rolls-Royce selects quad-laser machine for next stage of AM industrialisation

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British engineering firm Rolls-Royce has chosen to work with metal additive manufacturing (AM) machines featuring four lasers operating simultaneously to enhance its AM capability.

The machines will play an important role in the firm’s competitive adoption of AM for the fabrication and repair of aerospace components, whose design, weight and cost can be all be improved using the technology.

Multiple lasers can be used to increase build rates in AM by either having the lasers to operating independently on separate parts, or cooperating on single large components. According to SLM Solutions, using a quad-laser configuration is particularly effective, as it can increase build rates by 90 per cent over twin-laser configurations.

The quad-laser machine selected by Rolls-Royce – SLM Solutions’ SLM500 – can achieve build rates up to 171cm3 in a 500 x 280 x 365mm build chamber using lasers between 800W and 2.8kW Watts. The system also offers automated, closed-loop material supply, recovery and sieving to minimise operator handling of metal powder. Incorporating SLM Solution’s years-long experience mastering multi-laser optics, together with its patented bi-directional recoating mechanism, the SLM500 was the first quad-laser machine introduced to the market in 2013, according to the firm.

Speed and safety are common requirements in manufacturing, however aerospace is a particularly challenging production environment due its rigorous certification process that demands parts of exceptional quality and reliability.

Meddah Hadjar, CEO of SLM Solutions Group said: ‘Rolls-Royce is very advanced in additive layer manufacturing, with a state-of-the-art approach and an expert team working on extremely complex metal AM solutions. SLM Solutions recognised the need at Rolls-Royce for a supplier to support with equipment qualification. We work closely to develop products that meet their needs to assure aerospace certified part quality levels. This way the Rolls-Royce team can document their expertise and control of the systems adhering to strict regulations and keep their ambitious and innovative additive production plans on track.’

Essential to Rolls-Royce’ selection of SLM Solutions as a supplier was the firm’s ability to control inert gas flow in order to maintain a controlled working atmosphere across the build chamber. Gas flow and control within multi-laser machines was rigorously investigated by Rolls- Royce due to its direct correlation to build quality. The sintered wall gas flow offered by SLM Solutions’ machines provided optimal results in a compact footprint, which suited Rolls-Royce’ needs.

Neil Mantle, head of additive layer manufacturing at Rolls-Royce remarked: ‘We are delighted to be working with SLM Solutions and using their quad-laser machines. Rolls-Royce continues to develop its additive layer manufacturing capability to ensure we are at the forefront of advanced manufacturing.  We knew that transferring our expertise and knowledge gained from single laser machines to multi-laser platforms would require a close working relationship and SLM Solutions have provided this.’

With an eye forward SLM Solutions has included Rolls-Royce as a beta customer for machine accessories to cooperate on future developments.

Image: Additive manufacturing can be used to optimise the geometry and weight of aerospace parts. (Image: Shutterstock user Chesky)

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