Optomec, based in New Mexico, has made a breakthrough in its Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) direct energy deposition (DED) process. Targeted towards the heat exchanger and other high-conductivity application markets, Optomec can produce pure copper parts. A Challenge that has plagued the laser Metal AM market do to coppers inherent reflectivity. This is one of the latest innovations undertaken by metal additive manufacturing stakeholders to introduce the material to the market.
Tom Cobbs, product manager for Optomec LENS systems, comments, “We see this as a major milestone for LENS and DED additive manufacturing — because working with copper is essential for many of our customers. Copper is so critical because it enables the addition of high thermally-conductive features like cooling fins, the addition of soft metal sealing surfaces and high electrically-conductive surfaces for power transmission.”
Copper is quite popular in circuitry, electric wiring, and architecture due to its high thermal and electrical conductivity, as well as it’s properties of being malleable and ductile. Certain alloy formulations of copper are also applied to the production of next-generation rocket components, including the combustion chamber for Launcher’s E-2 rocket engine.
The benefits of 3D printing copper is similar to most 3D metals like more geometric freedom, less wastage, lower cost for short-run parts, but processing the material has proved challenging to many metal methods. “The infrared wavelengths on most standard, laser-based AM systems are not readily absorbed by copper, making it difficult to establish a melt pool as the laser energy is reflected back into the source, causing all kinds of havoc,” explains Cobbs.
Optomec’s LENS technology is ready-made to surpass the challenges faced by 3D printing in pure copper. “Our laser-based solution is virtually immune to any back reflection, so the laser can operate at full power on reflective surfaces without any difficulty,” comments Cobbs. Now, he adds, “Optomec engineers have developed process parameters to account for thermal conductivity differences, as well as big changes in absorption.”
Vialva, Tia, et al. “Optomec Updates LENS System to 3D Print in Copper.” 3D Printing Industry, 4 Dec. 2019, 3dprintingindustry.com/news/optomec-updates-lens-system-to-3d-print-in-copper-165920/.