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EU project InShaPe – next innovation leap in metal-based additive manufacturing

In many industrial sectors, such as in the automotive industry, in aerospace or in the energy sector, the demand for special metal components that are light and have a high strength is increasing. Modern gas turbines, for example, require extremely stable and at the same time lightweight heat shields. An important manufacturing process for this is the powder-bed fusion process of metals using laser beam (PBF-LB/M). Depending on the application, the process is not yet always competitive compared with conventional production in terms of unit costs. The research and innovation project InShaPe, funded by the EU with EUR 6.8 million, aims to make a decisive contribution to the further development of the technology. Under the coordination of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), here the Professorship of Laser-based Additive Manufacturing, ten partners from seven countries are working together on the project.

In powder-bed fusion of metals, extremely thin layers of metal powder are applied to a building platform. This powder layer is melted by a focused laser beam and binds to the underlying material layer during solidification.  This process is repeated layer by layer until a finished component is created. Due to the layered structure, complex and weight-saving geometries can be realised. After removal of excess powder, the finished component is then usually post-processed depending on the application.

Flexible adaptation of the laser spot enables efficient and cost-effective production
The aim of the recently launched EU project InShaPe is to further develop metal-based additive manufacturing. The improved manufacturing process is based on a high-performance optical module with programmable intensity distribution and AI techniques to determine the optimal beam shape for the target object, determined for example by the material type and geometry. InShaPe also develops an innovative process monitoring and control system for quality analysis that integrates multispectral imaging, i.e. simultaneous observation of light of different wavelengths into the area of additive manufacturing.

“The combination of these two new technologies enables efficient and advanced exposure strategies so that even the most demanding production of complex special components works right away”, says InShaPe coordinator Prof. Dr.-Ing. Katrin Wudy from the School of Engineering and Design at the Technical University of Munich.

InShaPe makes metal-based additive manufacturing faster, cheaper and more sustainable
The consortium has set itself the goal of further developing this form of additive manufacturing into a commercially wide-ranging manufacturing technology that shall outperform conventional manufacturing processes such as die casting in terms of precision and sustainability in the future. This is due to the fact that the adaptation of the laser beam shape and the new exposure options enable an energy- and material-efficient production process. At the same time, the InShaPe innovation aims at demonstrating the competitiveness of additive manufacturing compared to traditional manufacturing processes in terms of unit costs, flexibility and production volume. The AI-supported control and operation should also enable non-highly qualified workers to use the new process.

The overall goal of InShaPe is to further develop and demonstrate an innovative powder-bed fusion process for metals (PBF-LB/M) for four industrial applications in the aerospace, energy and automotive industry. Compared to the current state of the art, the following advantages should be achieved:

·        a seven times higher production rate

·        over 50 percent lower costs

·        60 percent less energy consumption

·        30 percent less waste

In the long term, the successful development and marketing of InShaPe technologies is intended to strengthen the European PBF-LB/M manufacturing industry as a leading provider of highly complex parts and set new best-in-class standards for digital, resource-efficient and agile laser-based production methods.

Publisher: TUM
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Katrin Wudy heads the project InShaPe. Image: Stefan Woidig/TUM
Powder Bed Fusion of Metals using Laser Beam. Image: Stefan Woidig/TUM