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John O | September 2017

New 3-D printing process produces pure copper components

researchers at the fraunhofer institute for laser technology ilt in aachen, germany will present a new selective laser melting process for copper materials at the upcoming formnext in frankfurt, germany that demonstrates the first cost-effective method for 3-d printing components of pure copper, which is a breakthrough of particular interest to the thermal management industry.


the new process should allow 3d printing of pure copper components.
(fraunhofer ilt, aachen, germany)


according to a press release from the institute, selective laser melting (slm) (also known as laser beam melting or laser-powder bed fusion) has already been effective in manufacturing components made from steel, titanium, aluminum, nickel, and cobalt alloys. this project focused on making the process compatible with copper and copper alloy.


to make it work, researchers used a green laser with a wavelength of 515 nanometers rather than the standard infrared laser.


“this means that less laser power output is needed for a stable process,” the article explained. “furthermore, the laser beam can be focused more precisely, allowing it to manufacture far more delicate components using the new slm process.”


the institute is currently building a laser source that can work at a maximum output of 400 watts in continuous service and expects that it will be ready by the end of 2017. this will allow the researchers to refine the process for 3-d printing copper components.


“the primary future goal is to create a reliable process with which industrial users can 3d print complex geometries of pure copper with hollow structures and undercuts,” the article added. “the process can be used for highly efficient heat exchangers and heat sinks or for the production of delicate, complex electrical components in small batches.”


an article from 3dprint.com noted, “because it reflects up to 90% of laser radiation, only a small bit of the energy is deposited in the material and able to be used for the melting process; system components can also be damaged by the reflected radiation, and the material’s absorptivity for infrared light increases as the copper transitions to a liquid state, causing an unstable remelting process.”

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