The 3D Printing Factory of the Future Unveiled at formnext
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 17, 2016 |
Concept Laser showcased its first 3D printing system meant to fulfill a mass manufacturing concept.

After a month or so of negotiations and setbacks, GE Aviation finally decided to purchase Concept Laser, the German manufacturer of metal laser 3D printing machines. Whether or not this will serve GE better than its previous candidate, SLM Solutions, may never be known, but what is clear is that Concept Laser produces some interesting technology.

Concept Laser previously announced a concept for additive manufacturing (AM) in a highly autonomous fashion, something the company refers to as the “AM Factory of Tomorrow.” At the formnext 3D printing trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, this year, the firm unveiled the first machine to execute that vision, the new M LINE FACTORY.

Concept Laser’s AM Factory of Tomorrow

The system is broken down into a variety of independent machines that are meant to enable a parallel (rather than sequential) production workflow for mass manufacturing. The production unit is the M LINE FACTORY PRD, which has a build envelope of 400 mm x 400 mm x 425 mm and can be equipped with one to four 400W or 1kW lasers.

The M LINE FACTORY, with the M LINE FACTORY PRD production unit on the right and the M LINE FACTORY PCG setup and dismantling unit on the left. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)
The M LINE FACTORY, with the M LINE FACTORY PRD production unit on the right and the M LINE FACTORY PCG setup and dismantling unit on the left. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)

Within the production unit, there are three modules for loading powder, printing a part and powder overflow, which are all connected by an interior tunnel system. This makes it possible to move powder automatically into and out of the print chamber, without interrupting the print. Concept Laser ultimately envisions incorporating an automated tool changer within the system to incorporate such tools as CNC machining.

Here, two production units flank either side of the powder station, allowing for parallel manufacturing. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)
Here, two production units flank either side of the powder station, allowing for parallel manufacturing. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)

The M LINE FACTORY PCG is a separate unit for setting up and disarming prints. An operator can sieve powder for new prints or unpack completed prints within this self-contained, closed module without actually handling any powder. This unit is meant to pair with the M LINE FACTORY PRD in such a way that new powder and completed prints can be moved to the M LINE FACTORY PCG while the production unit begins a new job.

This is a vision for the AM Factory of Tomorrow, wherein multiple machines are aligned in such a way as to allow for mass manufacturing of 3D-printed parts. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)
This is a vision for the AM Factory of Tomorrow, wherein multiple machines are aligned in such a way as to allow for mass manufacturing of 3D-printed parts. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)

The grander vision is for firms to buy multiple machines and build an AM Factory of Tomorrow, in which all of these printers are networked and controlled via a tablet with Concept Laser’s CL WRX 3.0 software suite. The software can perform remote diagnosis and service monitoring of an entire fleet of M LINE FACTORY systems.

New Machines, Tech and Metals

The company also announced a new standalone 3D printing system, the Mlab cusing 200R, which expands upon the original Mlab cusing R in terms of size, power and other features. The new system now uses a 200W laser, instead of a 100W laser, and has a build volume of 100 mm x 100 mm x 100 mm, a 54 percent increase in overall build volume. A larger filter also allows for longer machine run time, while a new clamping system is meant to improve overall part positioning accuracy. The Mlab cusing 200R is paired with the QM Powder S automated sieving station, which can use one to three sieves.

The new, larger and more powerful Mlab cusing 200R. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)
The new, larger and more powerful Mlab cusing 200R. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)

Concept Laser also unveiled a laser power meter called QM Cusing Power, which is meant to measure the laser power directly on the build area and relay that information on a digital display. The device can be used for all Concept Laser machines, measuring power from 25W to 1kW and transmitting it over Bluetooth or USB to the company’s Primes app. Because accurate measurement of laser power is crucial to reliable printing, this should help improve quality control for Concept Laser’s metal 3D printing process.

The company also announced a new unpacking station to complement its X line 2000R 3D printer, the largest powderbed metal 3D printer in the world. The X LINE PCG automatically rotates printed parts on two axes within an inert chamber, allowing for more effective powder removal.

3D-printed rings made from silver and gold precious metal alloys. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)
3D-printed rings made from silver and gold precious metal alloys. (Image courtesy of Concept Laser.)

Concept Laser also unveiled a series of precious metals that could be used with its systems, particularly with the Mlab series: silver alloy, 18-carat yellow gold, 18-carat rose gold, 18-carat red gold and platinum alloy. 

While Concept Laser showcased a number of new products as this year’s formnext, the highlight was obviously the M LINE FACTORY, which demonstrated that Concept Laser’s AM Factory of Tomorrow is not just a concept, but perhaps the real deal. To learn more, read the complete announcement from formnext.

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