In the first part of our series, we gave a broad overview of hybrid manufacturing technology, but didn’t focus too much on the specific capabilities of various technologies. As we run down the larger manufacturers in the space, these details should begin to emerge. We will be mostly focused on industrial metal hybrid technologies, but will cover some polymer and low-cost systems in the next part in our series.
One of the leading companies in the hybrid space is DMG Mori, a major German maker of CNC equipment. Its hybrid manufacturing technology is, so far, based on directed energy deposition (DED). DMG’s Lasertec 65 3D Hybrid, Lasertec 125 Hybrid and Lasertec 4300 3D Hybrid rely on laser metal deposition (LMD) within an inert gas shroud, rather than a completely inert chamber. Metal powder is blown under a 2,500- or 3,000-watt laser that melts the metal and welds it to the build plate. Once the metal has cooled, a spindle can mill the part with a smooth finish.
Whereas the Lasertec 65 features 5-axis milling and a tilting table, the 4300 has 6-axis deposition, 5-axis milling and turning, and B-axis tilting. The latter also includes an automatic laser head changer to swap between five different nozzle sizes. The 125 was announced at Formnext 2019 and is a larger version of the 65.
In addition to its hybrid options, it’s worth noting that DMG offers a standalone selective laser melting 3D printer, which it markets alongside a CNC machine for pre-processing. The company obtained access to metal powder bed fusion (PBF) 3D printing via a majority acquisition of one of the early developers of the technology, Realizer. With this in mind, it’s possible that the company could release a PBF hybrid system in the future.
Japanese CNC manufacturer Mazak offers a variety of hybrid technologies. For example, the VC-500 AM relies on an LMD head within a 5-axis machine, while the VC-500A/5X AM HWD uses an arc torch and laser system developed with Lincoln Electric to melt metal wire more quickly at 3-4 lbs/hour. The INTEGREX i-200S AM, i-300S AM and i- 400S AM use multiple lasers to perform LMD, before turning and milling spindles are used for machining. The INTEGREX i-400S AM is the most advanced, including two turning and milling spindles and the ability to switch between different LMD heads.
Japanese machine tool maker Matsuura Machinery Corporation is unique in this list in that it released the first to release a commercial hybrid 3D printer and because its additive technology is not DED-based but relies on metal powder bed fusion. The flagship LUMEX Avance-25 combines selective laser melting using a 500W or 1kW laser with high-speed milling, performed every 10 layers. The Avance-25 was succeeded by the Avance-60, which has a larger build volume and the ability to incorporate 20 tools.
Developed by Sandia National Laboratories, Optomec’s laser engineered net shaping (LENS) technology is a form of DED similar to LMD. In addition to being incorporated into Optomec’s own AM and hybrid systems (the LENS 500 and LENS 860), the Sandia spin-out also offers modules that make it possible to incorporate LENS onto existing CNC machines. In November 2019, the company began offering AutoCLAD vision systems from Huffman for part repair.
After acting as an early developer of DED technology and then abandoning it, German industrial machine manufacturer Trumpf is once again becoming an increasingly important player in metal AM. Unlike the other firms mentioned here, which blend CNC milling with 3D printing, Trumpf combines LMD with laser cutting. The TruLaser Cell can perform 3D printing, as well as laser cutting and welding.
Japanese CNC manufacturer Okuma sells the MU-8000V Laser EX series, developed in partnership with Trumpf, as well as the MULTUS U LASER EX series. Both systems include LMD and CNC capabilities, however the former also features in-process inspection and the use of coolant for faster fabrication.
Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies
Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (HMT) is a spin-off of the RECLAIM project at De Montfort University in the U.K., which resulted in the development of a hybrid manufacturing tool head system that can be incorporated into existing CNC or industrial robotics equipment. In addition to a DED head, the AMBIT Series 7 can automatically swap over to other tool heads capable of cutting, drilling, inspection and more. The DED head uses an LMD process, in which metal powder is blown onto a substrate beneath a high-powered laser.
Publicly traded CNC manufacturer Hermle has taken a different approach to 3D printing. Rather than use a DED process, Hermle integrates its own thermal spray technology into a five-axis CNC. The process uses very hot steam to jet metal powder within a nitrogen gas onto a substrate at three times the speed of sound. This results in pressures of 10 GPa and temperatures hot as 1,000°C at the forging site. A vertical milling spindle can then machine excess material. The MPA 40 machine which uses this technology can make parts up to 550 mm in diameter and 460 mm tall.
A manufacturer of EDM, machining and metal 3D printing systems, Sodick unveiled a hybrid system in 2017. The OPM 250 L combines metal PBF with milling, using a 500W laser to perform SLM and a 45000 min-1 spindle for milling purposes. A 45,000 RPM mill is applied every 10 layers during the printing process to smooth out the part’s surface finish.
Diversified Machine Systems
Colorado-based Diversified Machine Systems (DMS) is a CNC manufacturer that offers several hybrid machines that incorporate either a high-powered polymer extruder or a gas metal arc welding head into the company’s three- and five-axis CNC routers. In 2018, DMS was acquired by an Italian multinational manufacturer of industrial machines, SCM Group, giving SCM a bigger footprint in the U.S. and DMS greater access to global markets.
In the next installment in our series, we will look at more hybrid 3D printer manufacturers, including desktop machines and some technologies that don’t quite fit in alongside the printers described here.
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