Additive Manufacturing

New Technology Could Revolutionize 3-D Printing

Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laborator

A technology originally developed to smooth out and pattern high-powered laser beams for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) can be used to 3-D print metal objects faster than ever before, according to a new study by Lawrence Livermore researchers.

A team of Lab scientists report the findings in the latest issue of Optics Express, published online on May 15. This new method—Diode-based Additive Manufacturing (DiAM)—uses high-powered arrays of laser diodes, a Q-switched laser and a specialized laser modulator developed for NIF to flash print an entire layer of metal powder at a time, instead of raster scanning with a laser across each layer, as with conventional laser-based powder-bed fusion additive manufacturing (PBFAM) systems.

Researchers could potentially 3D print large metal objects in a fraction of the time needed for metal 3D printers on the market today, according to a new study by LLNL researchers.

The result, researchers said, is the possibility that large metal objects could be printed in a fraction of the time needed for metal 3-D printers on the market today, expanding possibilities for industries requiring larger metal parts, such as aerospace and automotive. The combination of speed and degree of design flexibility afforded through the DiAM method, the team concluded, is potentially “far beyond” that of current powder-bed fusion-based systems.

“By cutting the print time and having the ability to upscale, this process could revolutionize metal additive manufacturing,” said Ibo Matthews, an LLNL scientist heading the research and the paper’s lead author. “The illumination time savings, we estimate, is such that a one cubic meter build that would require 10 years of raster-scanned illumination to make would require only a few hours with DiAM, because you can image each layer at once. Printing with a gray-scaled image may also allow you to reduce residual stress because you can tailor the thermal stresses spatially and temporally.”

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