A leading additive manufacturing (AM) event in China, TCT Asia serves as the annual platform for groundbreaking innovations in this high-tech field. At this year’s show, running from September 12-14, 2023, in Shanghai, Farsoon Technologies unveiled a brand-new, next-generation laser machine. Bright Laser Technologies (BLT) revealed significant upgrades to an existing model. Both developments contribute to the industry’s intensifying “laser wars”—a race to optimize speed, efficiency, and capabilities in additive manufacturing.
Farsoon took the stage at TCT Asia to announce the development of its next-generation FS1521M metal AM system. This ambitious platform features 16 fiber lasers and aims to redefine large-format metal 3D printing.
What sets the FS1521M apart are its new calibration algorithms, enabling precise control over each laser’s operation and overlap, states the company. This innovation guarantees uniform mechanical properties throughout the build area, allowing optimal quality, efficiency, or a balanced performance based on the specific manufacturing need. The high build rate of up to 400 cubic centimeters per hour (400cm³/h) adds another layer of efficiency, offering either speed for large-format parts or reduced manufacturing costs for volume production.
The FS1521M system comes equipped with an extra-large build volume, boasting a standard build volume with a platform roughly the size of a dining table, having a diameter of about 1.5 meters (or approximately 5 feet), and an 850mm Z-axis. This expanded build size is key for sectors like automotive, aerospace, and energy, where large-format industrial parts are frequently required. Moreover, the system provides an optional extended Z-height of 1650mm, unlocking its potential in oil & gas and aerospace applications.
Additionally, the FS1521M features an innovative gas flow design and parallel permanent filtration systems that ensure stable, real-time particle removal. Its closed-loop, contact-less powder handling system offers enhanced operational safety and streamlined powder management, making it a comprehensive solution for today’s additive manufacturing challenges, claims Farsoon.
Scaling new heights
Another Chinese AM giant, BLT, also had significant news to share. The Xi’an-based company announced its BLT-S800 machine, designed to increase production efficiency dramatically, received an optical configuration upgrade to achieve more production efficiency. Its upgraded 20-laser high-efficiency printing technology promises to help users boost productivity and optimize output.
In the past year, BLT has launched new machines and supported successful rocket launch missions with its metal 3D printed components. Featuring a build dimension of 800mmx800mx600mm, the BLT-S800 is likely to strengthen the company’s market position even more. This machine is designed for large-scale batch production of industrial parts like turbine blades, engine casings, and aircraft brackets.
As the only qualified supplier in Asia for manufacturing Airbus flying parts, BLT’s technology is already in a league of its own. Their multi-laser systems allow for manufacturing complex parts in a single build, drastically improving productivity and reducing lead times. With the introduction of the 20-laser high-efficiency BLT-S800, BLT seems poised to elevate its technological offering to an entirely new level.
This is especially notable considering Airbus’s accelerated growth in China. Airbus has made significant strides in its China operations for 2023. The company plans to double the production capacity of its best-selling A320 single-aisle jet at its factory in Tianjin. Beijing has also greenlighted Airbus for 160 new plane orders. The plane manufacturer’s Tianjin assembly line has been operational since 2008 and has delivered over 600 aircraft, including the first A321neo to Juneyao Air. As of January 2023, the A320neo family had secured over 8,600 firm orders from more than 130 customers worldwide. With Airbus’s rapid expansion in China, BLT could catapult its production of specialized aircraft components to new heights.
It’s also worth noting that both 3D printer companies were disclosed as partners to Apple to additively manufacture the electronics giant’s smartwatches. Specifically, the two will be producing titanium cases for the Apple Watch Ultra. More lasers means greater productivity for mass production.
Why more lasers?
The escalating competition to integrate more lasers into metal AM systems like direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) machines is becoming a hallmark of innovation in the 3D printing industry. These laser wars are driven by the quest for speed and efficiency. Multiple lasers can significantly expedite the sintering process, making these machines appealing for industries requiring large volumes or specialized components, such as aerospace and automotive.
However, the race for more lasers is not without its challenges. Adding more lasers complicates the machine’s calibration, demanding hardware innovation and advancements in the software and control systems. Such companies like Farsoon and BLT are not just increasing the laser count. Still, they are also investing in sophisticated technologies to manage them, making each announcement a strategic move in an ongoing battle to lead the market.
The announcements by Farsoon and BLT at TCT Asia 2023 signify a significant leap in the metal 3D printing sector. Farsoon’s FS1521M series is set to revolutionize large-format metal printing with its multi-laser technology and massive build volume. At the same time, BLT’s BLT-S800 aims to redefine what is possible regarding productivity and efficiency. As the industry evolves, watching how these new systems are integrated into production lines and what new possibilities they unlock will be fascinating.