For twenty years, O.R. Lasertechnologie GmbH from Dieburg, Germany, has been manufacturing systems for laser deposition welding, and by now, they also offer a powderbed system. In this interview by Peter Trechow from VDMA Germany (the German Additive Manufacturing Association), manager Uri Resnik explains O.R. Lasertechnologie’s target users and fields of application, and how a high production intensity is of help – and why he registers with joy how universities in Germany and abroad rely on AM systems from his firm.
Peter Trechow (VDMA): Could you provide a short introduction to O.R. Lasertechnologie?
Uri Resnik: With pleasure. Since September 1997, meaning for twenty years now, we have been developing and producing laser systems for material processing and material deposition. Today, we have 120 employees worldwide, 80 of them at our headquarters in Dieburg. OR Laser’s first steps were in repair and modification of highly sensitive parts: maintenance of tools for punching and plastics injection molding, or repair and processing of worn-out turbine blades. To do that, a laser welds metal filaments or powder onto a component, then this gets calibrated into the right dimensions subtractively. In turbine construction as well as tool construction, laser deposition welding is the method of choice whenever errors occur during the complicated production chain. These can then be corrected instead of scrapping the whole component.
Apart from laser deposition welding, do you target other areas of additive manufacturing?
Resnik: Yes. Based on our experience in laser deposition welding – first with filaments, later with a powder nozzle – we have developed our own powderbed system. We have always had a high production intensity: we develop and realize laser systems, mechanics, and software in-house. This allows us flexibility when working with our customers’ demands, who mostly belong to small and medium-sized businesses. To such businesses, the prices of today’s powderbed systems pose a high initial hurdle. Three years ago, we decided to close this gap – and we set €100.000 as our limit. Pricewise, our system is tailored to small and medium-sized businesses and universities. This was possible due to having our own laser and software development. The system has been used in dental laboratories, with manufacturers of implants, tool manufacturers, companies belonging to the aerospace industry, as well as with manufacturers of jewellery. And we are especially happy that universities inside and outside of Germany are using the system – and they give us valuable feedback.
“Based on our experience in laser deposition welding – first with filaments, later with a powder nozzle – we have developed our own powderbed system.”
Which choice of materials can users process in your systems?
Resnik: With powderbed technology, that would mostly be cobalt chrome alloys for implantology, stainless steel and various precious metals – meaning titanium and aluminium; in terms of fire protection requirements, it is mostly about adjustments in suction technology. In laser deposition welding, carbonaceous, wear-resistant metal powders with a grain size of about 90 µm are being used.
Which are the most important fields of application for your metal printers – and which do you regard as the biggest technological challenges in system technology?
Resnik: With an installation space of 100 mm diameter and a height of 110 mm, the most important fields of application are in dental/medical implants for humans and animals, as well as in jewellery. In deposition welding, the main areas of focus are in tool and mold construction, energy system construction, as well as aerospace industry. As I said, we regard suction technology as a challenge that can be mastered. With larger installation space, there are many questions around thermal expansion of components and heat development in the systems. In addition, removing supporting structures after printing remains a problem.
The industry wants automated process chains, in which production and postprocessing technologies of different manufacturers would be connectable via plug&play. Is this a realistic wish?
Resnik: In our systems, this question does not yet arise. We use a zero point tensioning system, and with this, users of the dental sector can take out the building platform as a whole and clamp it into a milling center. Thus, the whole coordinate system is carried over to the milling process before the parts get singled out and are removed from their supporting structures. It is an exciting question if and how removing supporting structures might become automated in industrial processes. I think this highly complex task will remain a manual one for a long time.
What sets you apart from the competition?
Resnik: I would point to our production intensity. That is what allowed us to open up a whole new price segment in the powderbed area. We were able to build on our existing software suite and to enlarge it specifically for powderbed systems. By now, customers from the jewellery industry come to us with different data formats. But even then, we usually find a solution quickly, due to our software and laser expertise. The short distance and well-practised communication between our laser, mechanical engineering, and software specialists pave the ways which daunt many of our competition. We are open-minded, we appreciate sharing experiences with our customers, and we put a high emphasis on cooperation with curious explorers who carve new paths. In such a cooperation, for example, we are working on solutions for additive processing of highly reflective metals. Among other things, this calls for different laser wave lengths. We possess this kind of know-how.
What were your goals and interests in joining the Additive Manufacturing Association?
Resnik: We find it important to present the interests of our young sector to the outside world in a bundled manner. In addition, we are interested in pushing forward the topic of standardization, and in monitoring the discussions from up close. And last but not least, the Association offers excellent possibilities for networking with other players within additive manufacturing.