Laser Wars: Eplus3D Releases 16-Laser Metal 3D Printer

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Chinese metal laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) manufacturer Eplus3D has unveiled its latest innovation: the EP-M1550. The new system is the company’s first 16-laser metal 3D printer, announced at TCT Asia just as its competitors, Farsoon and Bright Laser Technologies (BLT), introduced their own 16-laser systems to the market.

This new system introduces a 16-laser configuration, deployed in a four-by-four matrix, that can be operated synchronously. This allows for an impressive high build rate of up to 650 cm³/h. Eplus3D has also made it possible to configure the optics system with up to 25 lasers and galvanometers, catering to individual customer needs.

The build volume of the EP-M1550 is a substantial 1558 x 1558 x 1200 mm, with an option to extend the height to 2000 mm. This results in a functional printing volume of 2,670 liters, making it one of the largest metal PBF systems available for production. This extensive volume capability is ideal for industries that require the manufacturing of large-size, high-precision, and high-performance parts, such as aerospace.

The EP-M1550 offers options for either 500W or 700W lasers and is capable of printing a broad range of materials. This includes titanium alloys, aluminum alloys, stainless steels, and mold steels, offering a similar range of material options as Eplus3D’s smaller frame systems.

“We have solved the technical challenges and bottlenecks associated with ultra-large metal LPBF machines and approached the leading level in the industry in terms of advancement and stability of our systems,” said Mary Li, General Manager of EPlus3D’s International Division. “Delivering Nearly 20 ultra-large machines with printing size 1250X1250X1000mm or bigger to our customers where they are producing parts in a production environment. Eplus3D will continue to provide more reliable and applicable production-level AM systems and solutions to help more customers from the industry.”

Eplus3D and the Competition

Eplus3D plans to disclose more details about the EP-M1550 at Formnext 2023, but it won’t be the only one showing off a many-lasered metal 3D printer at the trade show. At TCT Asia, Farsoon and BLT also introduced 16-laser machines. Eplus3D’s system boasts an impressive build rate of up to 650 cm³/h, attributed to its 16-laser configuration, and even offers an option to expand to 25 lasers, a feature catering to varied manufacturing needs. This build rate surpasses that of Farsoon’s FS1521M, which reaches up to 400 cm³/h. However, Farsoon’s machine is distinct in its use of calibration algorithms, allowing for precise control over each laser’s operation and overlap. This precise control enables uniform mechanical properties across the build area, fulfilling specific manufacturing quality and efficiency requirements.

On the other hand, BLT’s BLT-S800 distinguishes itself with an upgraded 20-laser high-efficiency printing technology, aimed to optimize output and productivity. Its build volume is smaller than both the Eplus3D and Farsoon systems, but it is geared for large-scale batch production of specific industrial parts like turbine blades and engine casings. Unlike Eplus3D and Farsoon, BLT is also the only qualified supplier in Asia for manufacturing Airbus flying parts, a significant factor in its market positioning.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike Farsoon and BLT, Eplus3D was not named as a possible supplier for Apple’s use of LPBF to 3D print titanium cases for its upcoming smartwatch. The fact that it is, however, using equipment from competitors Farsoon and BLT is interesting because it suggests that the future is still open for who the tech giant might rely on for metal 3D printing.

China Leads the Metal 3D Printing Pack

The fact that all three major Chinese competitors unveiled 16-laser systems, with the potential for more lasers, is significant in terms of the larger Laser Wars taking place in the metal PBF market. Specifically, as discussed in our PRO report on LPBF in China, Chinese LPBF competitors already seem to be outpacing manufacturers in Europe and the U.S., once thought to be the leaders in the segment.

Meanwhile, growth of companies in Europe and the U.S. has stagnated somewhat due to the larger economic situation. However, there’s no reason to think that we won’t see machines with more than 16 lasers from these firms at Formnext 2023. The question is how quickly all of the above companies will be able roll them out into the market.

At the same time, startups are emerging that are attempting to challenge the existing LPBF paradigm. Specifically, Seurat, VulcanForms, and Freeform have their own approaches to deploying large amounts of laser power to 3D print volumes of metal parts. While VulcanForms has stumbled in its efforts, Seurat and Freeform still have the ability to disrupt the sector, if they can begin true commercial operations sooner rather than later. That doesn’t mean that China doesn’t have its own equivalents to these novel technologies.

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