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Makino and Fraunhofer ILT redefine the boundaries of AM

Makino and Fraunhofer ILT redefine the boundaries of AM

Makino, a globally recognized machine tool manufacturer headquartered in Japan, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT are using EHLA and EHLA3D to redefine the boundaries of additive manufacturing. By integrating EHLA3D into a five-axis CNC platform, they have developed a process that can efficiently produce, coat or repair complex geometries with high-strength materials. The collaboration has resulted in shorter production times and longer component lifetimes in critical industries, while laying the foundation for future innovation in the circular economy.

Laser technology plays a central role in the manufacturing industry, especially in the field of AM. In this context, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and Makino wanted to transfer the extremely fast laser cladding EHLA to a five-axis CNC platform. To do this, however, kinematics had to be developed to enable fast and dynamic movement of the machining head for the EHLA process.

This would allow flexible processing of all kinds of geometric shapes and coating of components with a huge range of materials. Initially, the project partners only thought about AM, but the topic of repairs soon came up. “Repairs are incredibly exciting. Many expensive components have to be replaced, even in the case of minor defects. A flexible system such as Makino’s with a rotary and tilt table really does offer good repair options, which saves costs for new production, avoids transport and delivery times and minimizes downtimes. In addition, the topic of repair is the basic requirement for a future circular economy,” says Min-Uh Ko, Group Leader for Additive Manufacturing and Repair LMD at Fraunhofer ILT.

Min-Uh Ko from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT (left) and Dr. Johannes Finger from Makino (right). Credit: Fraunhofer ILT.

Makino’s task in the project was not limited to the CNC hardware, but also to the process control, as this had to be completely redesigned. The challenge was to technically adapt the machine to high accelerations and to optimize the process control and machine kinematics in order to precisely control the interaction between the laser beam and the material.

The machine tool developed by the subsidiary Makino in Singapore achieves an effective feed speed of up to 30 meters per minute, which is remarkably fast, especially compared to conventional systems. This speed is advantageous when machining large and complex components, as it significantly reduces production time. The technical improvements lead to a consistently high quality of the end products and improved efficiency of the production process, which is particularly important for high-quality components in the aerospace and tooling industries.

“Makino is known worldwide for its high-precision CNC systems. The move to Additive Manufacturing, especially high-speed LMD, is a strategic extension of the Makino portfolio. The jointly developed five-axis CNC machine now enables us to quickly and accurately produce complex geometric shapes with materials that are difficult to weld, such as high-strength steels or carbide. This is unique,” ​​says Dr. Johannes Finger, Project Manager for Makino.

Joint optimization increases efficiency and precision

Fraunhofer ILT provided its extensive expertise in laser-based manufacturing processes and brought its extensive infrastructure and specialized laboratory facilities to the project. Thanks to its decades of experience in process and component development for LMD, the institute made a decisive contribution to optimizing the process parameters for processing different materials and ultimately transferring the new technology to the industrial pilot customer toolcraft AG. This included adjusting the laser parameters, fine-tuning the powder feed and optimizing the motion control of the CNC machine.

The AML 500 processing machine. Photo: Makino.

“Optimizing heat input is a crucial aspect of the EHLA3D process. The feed rate and powder gas jet play a crucial role in controlling the heat introduced into the material. By adjusting the feed rate and powder mass flows, we can precisely control the heat input, reduce the heat affected zone and ensure uniform coating quality,” said Min-Uh Ko, a renowned materials expert.

“By using high feed rates and optimized powder supply, we can achieve significantly improved material application efficiency with the same or even higher precision. The build speed with HS-LMD can thus be significantly increased, which improves the overall efficiency of the production process,” says Johannes Finger.

Repair and coating of high-quality components

The repair and maintenance of high-quality tools and machine parts that are exposed to high loads during normal operation was one of the project objectives. The partners were able to achieve this with the customized EHLA3D technology. Furthermore, the EHLA3D technology was successfully used to coat wear parts, which significantly improves the service life of these components. Because it can now apply wear-resistant coatings precisely and efficiently, EHLA3D has become a cost-effective solution for extending the service life of components in various sectors, including mining and heavy industry.

The fact that Makino was able to implement the results so quickly in the new AML 500 machine tool demonstrates the flexibility of the machine tool manufacturer’s CNC systems. On the other hand, the practical applications also show that the EHLA3D technology is not just a theoretical concept, but a sophisticated, robust and industrially applicable technology that offers significant advantages in terms of cost, efficiency and performance. The collaboration between the industrial customer and Fraunhofer ILT has led to tangible improvements in production technology that go far beyond the laboratory environment.

An important aspect of future developments will be to identify and validate new application areas for the EHLA3D process. Because the material systems that can be processed have become so flexible, this extended EHLA process can now be transferred to applications that could not normally be investigated because of the limitations of the LMD process. This is especially true for applications with multi-material systems and the printing of fine structures.