Laser Wars: ScanLAB to Democratize Powder Bed Fusion?

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We’ve all been a party to the laser wars, in which a tiny clique of powder bed fusion firms are outdoing each other on seeing how many lasers they can cram in million-dollar boxes. These companies hope that, as we saw when we went from one to quad lasers, further speed and yield improvements can be had by just adding lasers. I’m very skeptical of that because, if you add 12 lawnmowers to one lawn, you’re going to have a lot of them spending time waiting for one another to pass. Laser congestion could be a real thing, as could residual heat from the different laser passes acting differently on all parts.

Meanwhile, VELO3D wishes to also bring change through illuminating the black box that is powder bed through sensors and software. Seurat aims to create a revolution, but will need Uber money to do it. One Click Metal, Meltio and LMI also wish to innovate through offering low-cost solutions, while Aerosint wants to improve the parts via gradient metal printing. Firms like DMG Mori, Trumpf and Matsuura are keen to also showcase directed energy deposition and hybrid technologies, while Sciaky and Optomec repair stuff for the U.S. government. And, of course, Markforged and BASF would like us all to consider bound metal, while ExOne, Digital Metal, Desktop Metal, HP and GE love binder jet. Then there’s Farsoon over in China, and some exotics like Xjet, HoloAM and Admatec. And that’s it, right? That’s the happy-chappy world of metal 3D printing being rolled out by a few dozen firms.

Well, it was, until the nice people at ScanLAB rained on everyone’s parade. ScanLAB is a German galvo and laser company that makes over 35,000 laser systems a year, used for everything from imaging, to laser marking, drilling and cutting. The group that owns it makes around $35 million a year in revenue. ScanLAB was founded by someone called Hans J. Langer, who subsequently went on to do nothing notable at all (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge*). Also, I once described competing in powder bed fusion to being an audience member in a chess game that Hans Langer is playing with himself. And it looks like Hans is in the mood for “Hard Mode.” Just because you’re winning doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try with wave after subsequent wave of technology to destroy yourself.

ScanLAB is one of the largest suppliers of optics to SLA and powder bed fusion systems. In April the company released a product called fiberSYS, to no great consternation of excitement of most anyone, apart from a few close friends who were losing their minds over this. The video above has 390 views, so, suffice it to say, ScanLAB’s product has not been sufficiently popularized.

The fiberSYS is described as a “Compact Scan System for Multi-Head Laser Processing Machines.” The company describes it this way:

“For some years now, there has been a trend in the field of additive manufacturing (especially 3D printing in powder beds) towards the use of multi-head laser machines. This is easy to explain, as the combination of several scan heads leads to a significant increase in productivity, especially for large-scale components. SCANLAB has developed a new scan head for precisely such applications: the fiberSYS. The innovative system design, in which the position of the beam exit has been changed, allows maximum overlap between the scanners and their image fields. Other features, such as an integrated z-axis, fiber adapter and interface for process monitoring, make the scanner a handy modular system for both integrators and machine builders.”

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