Laser Wars: Farsoon Launches Eight-Laser Continuous Metal 3D Printer

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In the ongoing Laser Wars between powder bed fusion (PBF) manufacturers, we’ve discussed various configurations of multiple lasers and high build speeds via systems from companies ranging from Bright Laser Technologies and EPlus3D to Nikon SLM Solutions and Velo3D. Farsoon is now unveiling a variant of its eight-laser FS721M metal 3D printing system. The new FS721M-8-CAMS system is a continuous system designed for series production. It features a conveyor that transports a build to a breakout station while a second build begins. This approach, reminiscent of Additive Industries and the Concept R Line, aims to increase throughput and machine utilization.

I’ve previously joked that PBF machines should be called recoating machines since often two-thirds of their time is spent recoating. Farsoon is now examining the core economics of the process to understand how it can alter the costs of parts and machines. The new system features a 720 x 420 x 390 mm build volume, and the company claims it can build at 300 cubic centimeters per hour. The company has improved its scan strategies and parameters to optimize productivity, including the use of multiple lasers in overlapping print zones. Additionally, the company has made changes to its recoater and gas flow.

Many years ago, some machines experienced up to eight hours of downtime between builds, which made it challenging to generate significant revenue. Any form of automation benefits our market as it enhances the value of the machines, making them more worthwhile to purchase and reducing the cost per part. These improvements can significantly increase the number and profitability of 3D printing business cases.

We’re transitioning from lab-oriented to more fabrication-oriented systems. For actual manufacturing, high machine utilization and yield are paramount. It might seem silly that machines spend so much time heating up and cooling down builds, that so much time is devoted to recoating, that we can’t run continuously, and that there is extensive time spent in post-processing. The “box” is becoming better at making, but it is also doing more.

Additive Industries and others have previously blazed a trail with a more series manufacturing-suited approach. Renishaw’s Tempus approach also represents a considerable optimization, reducing build times by half. At the same time, AddUp’s gradual and sensible improvements to its machines represent another path forward through modularity and production floor-led iteration. Many companies are also focusing on more in-process monitoring and the “softwareization” of the 3D Printing challenge. Better post-processing equipment will also help.

All these approaches together will help reduce part costs and aid in the industrialization of 3D printing. I don’t think it’s a question of “who will win” for now, or which path is the best. All these paths need to be explored for significant improvements in machines. Alone, more lasers will only go so far, as will automation in the machine, as will software-based optimization, and as will modularity. I’m very enthusiastic about these developments because it means that everyone will have to improve their game, and we will all win.

Several different business models are emerging. AddUp, for instance, is collaborating with AZO for powder handling, while most vendors remain focused primarily on the machine itself. Moving forward, the decision whether to manufacture just a basic “box” or develop a more complex machine with extensive handling capabilities becomes crucial. Integrating more automation could render the device highly efficient but also more costly. If you only produce the basic machine, other devices might outperform yours on a cost-per-part basis. Alternatively, implementing better software might be a more cost-effective solution than adding more lasers.

Indeed, we’ve reached a juncture where vision-based thinking, partnerships, and self-perception will significantly shape the future of the 3D printed metal market. If you view yourself as merely a maker of 3D printers, your focus may remain on producing the best possible printer. However, if you see yourself as an enabler of future manufacturing, you might follow Seurat’s path and offer a service to manufacture parts. Conversely, perceiving your role as an end-to-end metal solutions provider could lead you to sell additional equipment, like sieves and vacuum cleaners.

Up until now, most firms have competed based on parts or specifications. Moving forward, we’ll see which companies have the most effective strategies and discover that some may lack a strategic approach altogether.

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