The future of manufacturing is here. The rate of change is nothing short of amazing. The implications for the near future of American industry are hard to predict, but my optimistic side says we are looking at a manufacturing rennasisance. This will not be without turmoil, change is never easy. But the potential for success is worth the effort.
Recently there have been a number of articles on the subject of 5 Axis machining centers. 5 Axis machines are not cheap, and in the past you would not normally spend the extra money unless you had a specific requirement for it. However the argument in favor is based on creating a more flexible overall shop flow since the 5 Axis can handle anything. The further benefit is that complex machine parts can be done in a single setup reducing down time and improving both accuracy and repeatability. So even though it appears expensive on the front end, the benefits outweigh the cost.
What would have never occurred was very clear to some R&D folks at DMG Mori in the creation of a 5 axis machining center in which one of the tool options is a 2kW laser powered metal deposition system. Voila’,3D metal printing and CNC machining in the same machine. There is a short 5 minute video that can be seen on YouTube at;
There is a certain elegance and almost inherent simplicity to this approach. CNC machines often come with tool changers. So what difference would it make if one of the tools was a laser? After all, a tool change is a tool change. In this case, it makes all the difference in the world. Laser metal deposition allows fabrication of features that would be almost impossible to machine from solid stock. In addition, the integration eliminates moving the part from one machine to another. The time lost to setups is saved and the as in the case of 5 axis machining, the accuracy and repeatability is uncompromised.
3D sintered metal processing machines are expensive, typically over $800,000. High end machine tool development is expensive too. A new machine may require millions of dollars of investment to create. So the Lasertech 65 may be a little too expensive to have in your personal shop at home, but you can bet that there will progress in the cost arena in the next 5 years. During which time there will likely be a lot of aerospace and automotive applications that will help bring the price down.
Thanks to the guys at Extreme Tech for fielding this one. Truly amazing.