Current Challenges in 3D Metal Printing

Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL)

(MRL)-Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) is a measure system developed by the United States Department of Defense (DOD) to assess the maturity of their supplier’s manufacturing readiness. Manufacturers use this measurement system to determine the production readiness stage of new product development. The measurement system uses a scale from MRL1 to MRL10. As reported by many industry experts, today’s metal printing systems produce metal printed prototype parts ranging from MRL4-MRL6 for applications evaluated by the FDA with respect to passenger and patient safety. Metal printed parts are ready to move into production once manufacturing statistical data meets the requirements of MRL10.

Current Generation Systems-The Problem MRL5 instead of MRL10

Experienced Metal Printing Companies Average MRL5
Building the Case for an Unstable System Process
•The laser does not present a predictable, uniform illumination across the powder bed
The Galvo scan head creates an infinite number of reflectivity and beam spot size issues
•Laser parameters are unable to address the inherent properties of the metal
•The metal print part specification is not considered in the design of the system
•The metal powder specification does not address oxide content or range of sphere sizes
There is no methodology that will stabilize the wide unit-to-unit variations of
today’s metal printed part to within normal distribution control limits.
“Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) is a 10 step measurement system developed by the United
States Department of Defense (DoD) to assess the maturity of manufacturing readiness”
(Source: Wikipedia)

Recent comments by metal printing industry experts

Quotes from Metal AM: Spring 2016 Edition

“Despite the outstanding promises of Metal Additive Manufacturing technologies, inconsistent quality, process reliability and speed are currently holding back industry growth and impacting on the cost-effectiveness of new applications”

“In terms of quality, AM for critical metal components such as those for aerospace and automotive still exhibits variability between runs, between machines, and over time.”

“Many manufacturers have openly stated that they see three basic limitations with parts made by metal AM;sconsitent quality, process reliability and part strength”

Quotes from Lawrence Livermore National Labs

“The production of metal parts via laser powder bed fusion additive manufacturing is growing exponentially. However, the transition of this technology from production of prototypes to production of critical parts is hindered by a lack of confidence in the quality of the part.”

“Metals produced suing AM have structure, properties, and performance that can differ from their cast and wrought counterparts. These include: density, residual stresses, mechanical behavior, non-equilibrium, microstructure, and crystallographic texture.

Scanning strategies can affect the properties of the part including density, mechanical properties and residual stress. Residual stress is one of several important material responses that need to be optimized for laser-based additive manufactured parts. A part can be fabricated within tolerances only to have residual stress-induced distortions put the part out of tolerance when removed from the build plate. Residual stress can also cause a part’s connection to support structures to fail.

Orthogonal to the Powder-Bed

Eliminating Reflectivity & Beam Spot Elongation

Incorporating both DDMS technology and the company’s proprietary LaserComb™ Beam Shaping Technology, the multi-kilowatt laser is orthogonal to the build-plate significantly reducing unit-to-unit metal printed part variations. The powder bed is presented with a predicable uniform illumination across the build-plate with an order of magnitude reduction in reflectivity with superior beam spot quality.

Current metal printing systems use a Galvo scan head for metal AM recognized as one of the key components that contributes to an unstable system process creating conditions for unpredictable variations in parts quality as the laser beam is constantly out of focus, with incalculable changes in reflectivity & energy density distribution, and continuous beam spot degradation.

Laser Illumination Across the Powder Bed

Current generation systems use a laser designed for the rapid cutting of metal that both
over-heats and under-heats the target zone. The energy density profile is Gaussian
shaped subjecting the powder bed to a
non-uniform laser illumination.

LaserComb™ Technology

The company will provide information at its own discretion upon required request.

Direct Drive Motion System Technology

Unlimited Build Plate Technology

Direct Drive Motion System (DDMS) technology is an automated platform that transports the multi-kilowatt laser across the build-plate expanding metal printing application sizes out to 1.5m x 3.0m. A low-friction magnetic based motion system, the laser levitates across the power bed orthogonal to the build plate significantly reducing wide unit-to-unit metal printed part variations associated with the use of a Galvo scan head. With advanced fully-sealed encoders, laser placement accuracies are within 5μm.


“The Galvo Scan Head was originally developed to draw patterns or images on walls for entertainment purposes and later adapted for fixed-position, laser-based subtractive material processing systems to deflect the laser beam across a larger surface area for the removal of metal. This technology is one of the greatest contributions to unit-to-unit variations with regards to metal AM.”

Metal Processing Under Laser

A Closely Guarded Secret

Laser Photonics greatest asset, with respect to 3D metal AM, is our R&D library of metal laser processing IP and data base of material property resources. Fonon’s scientist use a bottom-up approach matching the laser processing parameters to the physics of a given metal that takes into account each material’s unique melting point, coefficient of expansion, and density. The metal powder’s temperature is uniformly raised towards the material’s solid-to-liquid transition state then gently elevated above the melting point. As the solid transitions to its liquid state, the material lays down like a mirror introducing a disruptive change in the material’s coefficient of reflectivity. BTStargets these critical transition points based on a patented laser process originally developed to weld quartz structures with no degradation in optical quality.

To improve parts quality, the processing speed of the laser must align with the processing characteristics of each metal type accounting for transition temperature, specific wavelength reflectivity (absorption), viscosity, density, and thermal conductivity. Through physics, mathematical analysis, and real word experience, the company has accumulated a comprehensive metal library that addresses the unique properties of each metal powder optimizing its behavior under laser processing. Processing speeds are based on the characteristics of each metal type ensuring the material transitions into and exits out of its liquid state at the ideal rate of thermal expansion/contraction.

Metal Powder Formula

Screened for Oxide Content/Sorted to Reduce Δ Sphere Size

Under the same laser processing conditions, smaller sphere sizes process at different rates compared to large sphere sizes creating unpredictable hot-spots across the build-plate and/or areas of un-melted material. Per LLNL, “An important component of metal additive manufacturing process is the absorption of laser light by the metal powder and the spatial distribution of the absorbed energy. The absorption depends on the powder material, the distribution of particle sizes, the spatial distribution of the particles, and the laser beam size and profile.” Fonon’s proprietary powder formula is first screened for oxide content to meet the part density requirement. The powder is then sorted into lots of similar size spheres improving processing consistency presenting a better quality raw material to the build-plate that in turn, reduces unit-to-unit variations.

3D Printing Software

3D PRINTING software FIBER SCAN FUSION 3D™ with Multilanguage support. LPC 3DF systems require the use of commercially available file preparation software. The necessary software should have the functionality to create 2D slices from a 3D CAD model and export those slices to individual files in the PLT, DXF, or BMP format.

Design Consultation

From standard models to customized 3D Printing Systems, we consult directly with our customers to optimize each 3D Printer to meet their unique requirements targeting maximum performance for specialized designs, parts and other unique applications.

Premium Experience

Combined with our extensive experience of integrating Vision Systems into laser equipment, and our 3D deep engraving capabilities experience with submicron accuracies of non-dimensional Zero Width Laser Cutting.


High-Density: With the extremely low thermal gain drift performance, in combination through Fusion Splicing controller with direct drive digitally driven XYZ motion positioning system, complex, high-density 3D laser printing.

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