3Din30 Episode 1: What Is Laser Powder Bed Fusion?

by | May 3, 2021 | Interviews

Velo3D strives to keep our innovation an ongoing conversation. To put us in touch with those interested in the AM industry and the inner workings of Velo3D, we have launched 3Din30, a video series on LinkedIn Live that provides a forum for experts to discuss metal AM, and directly answer some of the most pressing questions surrounding the industry.

“This is a bit of an evolution for us,” said Senior Director of Marketing Michael Rogerson. “We’ve hosted several webinars as part of our VELOVirtual series, and what we’ve found is that you [the audience] have a lot of questions. So we wanted to create a channel that allows live interaction.”

In the first installment of 3Din30, Velo3D team members Chief Marketing Officer Renette Youssef, Michael Rogerson, and Vice President of Technical Partnerships Zach Murphree sat down to discuss some of the broader strokes of the technology that underpins the printing process at Velo3D under the banner: “What Is Laser Powder Bed Fusion?”

You can watch the entire conversation here on LinkedIn.

So, What is Laser Powder Bed Fusion?

Being that this 3Din30 was the first of the series, the panel started by addressing those who may be new to metal additive manufacturing. While metal additive manufacturing and 3D printing are terms used almost interchangeably, there is more of a consumer-focused implication to the 3D printer you might have in your garage, Murpree explained. Though the terms are essentially the same, metal AM is more often associated with professional applications common to a wide swath of industries from aerospace to oil and gas to automotive and space.

At Velo3D, our technology is fueled by laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF), the most common type of metal Additive Manufacturing.

“Laser powder bed fusion is one of the modalities of additive manufacturing,” Murphree said. “[L-PBF] is the process of making metal parts by melting a very fine powder with a laser. It’s a welding process fundamentally.”

What separates L-PBF from other forms of manufacturing such as casting, brazing, or welding, is that it enables parts to be integrated from the ground up. The process takes a computer-generated file and creates two-dimensional “slices” of a three-dimensional object that contain the laser directions. Then, a sophisticated printer uses high-power lasers to draw each two-dimensional design layer by layer. Once done, you have a compiled, fully dense metal part. These designs can be highly complex, limited only by the designer’s imagination.

Metal AM has been on the rise for years because it offers a number of unique advantages to the industries that turn to it. First of all, parts with an organic shape or internal channels that present challenges to other forms of manufacturing are well-suited for AM. Also, because metal AM-printed parts can be consolidated and streamlined in the printing process, they offer a much more lightweight option which is especially appealing for applications in space and aerospace.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Laser Powder Bed Fusion?

Seeing as this 3Din30 offered a high-level view of metal additive manufacturing and laser powder bed fusion, it was important to discuss some of the misconceptions surrounding the process. These misconceptions generally fall into two camps: that quality is difficult to ensure with metal AM, and that the technology itself is unapproachable.

“It’s hard for a lot of people to really envision that the thing you pull out of this laser printer system is a part that you can then stick in a jet engine,” Murphree said. “But it really is an end-use functional component.”

As far as the unapproachability, or the barriers that may exclude customers from exploring L-PBF technology, Murphree explains that companies like Velo3D have taken many of the complexities of the process and integrated it into the software and the printers themselves, which creates a much more approachable, user-friendly experience.

What is the Future of Laser Powder Bed Fusion?

Since L-PBF is still a relatively new innovation, it’s in a constant state of evolution, with new applications arising all the time. The 3Din30 session ended with a bit of forecasting about what the future may hold for the technology, and the metal AM industry as a whole.

Some future developments in L-PBF that Murphree outlined were scale, meaning printers will be able to accommodate the production of larger parts. In fact, Velo3D is planning to launch the Sapphire® XC printer later this year, which has four times the build area of the current Sapphire® system.

The next development is a further expansion of the materials that are able to be printed using metal AM. While there are a number of certified materials that are used in Velo3D metal AM, customer demand is pushing forward different types of materials based on unique applications.

What Else Did We Cover?

We encourage you to go check out the conversation if you’re interested in laser powder bed fusion and metal additive manufacturing. In the conversation the team discussed:

  • What are supports and why do some printing methods need them
  • How Velo3D is able to print SupportFree
  • Prototype manufacturing versus manufacturing for production
  • Unique applications for laser powder bed fusion
  • Advice for those exploring metal AM for the first time
  • A whole lot more!

Remember, you can find the entire 3D in 30 session here.

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About the Author

Amir Iliaifar

Sr. Content Marketing Manager

Amir Iliaifar is the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Velo3D where he oversees the production and distribution of Velo3D’s global digital content marketing initiatives. Prior to joining the company, Amir worked for a leading professional drone manufacturer, several SaaS companies, and as an automotive tech journalist. He holds a Master of Arts in Digital Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.