LLNL researchers are currently exploring the use of metal 3D printing to create strong, lightweight structures for advanced laser systems, an effort they say could alter the way lasers are designed in the future. In a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program, physicist Ibo Matthews and his team are experimenting with a new research-based metal 3D printer, one of only four of its kind in the world, using a customized software platform capable of unprecedented design control.
The powder bed laser-melting printer, made by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) and German startup Aconity 3D, was installed in December 2015. Lab engineers have added diagnostics and high-speed cameras to examine thermal emissions and to image the surface of parts as they’re being built. Matthews said the modifications will help the researchers determine how defects or deformations occur during the 3D printing process. “It’s very flexible; it allows us to change any of the parameters we want,” he said. “We’re developing confidence in what we’ve built. If any defects occur, it is our aim that the user can have a 3D map available at the end of the build that shows what and where it happened.”