Located on Sydney’s northern beaches, Raymax Applications has supplied innovative laser solutions to companies, universities, government departments and research institutes across Australia and New Zealand for over 25 years.

Lasers can be used for a myriad of tasks and situations: attached to a robot arm, or on the side of a bottling line, or inside a protective chamber for 3D printing metal parts. This wide variation in applications requires expert installation, support and training to ensure effective incorporation of the laser system. Sometimes, Raymax is presented with the challenge of a ‘never done before’ solution: a new application or use for a laser system.

“These are the challenges we love,” says John Grace, Managing Director of Raymax.“We not only get to apply our knowledge and skill, but we are giving the user an opportunity to do something they could never have done before, and that’s pretty satisfying for everyone.”

Lasers provide the opportunity to innovate, change and improve processes. For example, materials-processing applications such as welding, cutting and cladding in fields as diverse as consumer electronics, automotive manufacturing and defence, are now dominated by industrial lasers. This uptake changes traditional processes, influenced by the advantages of a more precise alternative to traditional processing.

In today’s fast-paced industrial and manufacturing sectors, demand for the latest technology has led Raymax into the realm of additive manufacturing (AM). By introducing laser cladding and welding systems with the installation of Laserline lasers, damaged parts can be repaired that are otherwise expensive to replace or take inordinate time to be delivered. Such economic advantages are being provided to mining and drilling operators, for aircraft part maintenance, in repair of generator turbine blades, and so on. Lasercladding has been shown not just to be an economical solution, but parts are proving far more robust that the original part, extending usable life.

Over the past three years Raymax has become the distributor of Europe’s leading 3D metal printing laser systems: SLM Solutions. SLM predicts that in Europe and the US, metal AM is set to revolutionise the automotive market; from high-performance racing cars to production vehicles, the benefits of design freedom and maximised functionality are increasing demand.

Terry Wohlers, a renowned commentator on 3D printing, emphasises the importance of design for AM (DfAM). Courses in this area are being offered in collaboration with RMIT in Melbourne, where four SLM laser systems are housed. Parts designed for conventional manufacturing are expensive to produce by AM. However, when parts are redesigned, benefits can be realised in terms of greater functionality, consolidation of assembly, inclusion of cooling channels, along with the benefit of using metals that offer reduced weight of the finished part.

Wohlers emphasises that one of the biggest barriers to the uptake of AM is the lack of knowledge and skills among the design and engineering workforce – a skills gap that needs filling quickly if manufacturers are to reap the benefits. Australia’s universities are filling an important role, providing research centres while offering testing facilities and application support to local industry as well as specific training.

“Our partnerships with universities is crucial to the introduction of new technology, particularly where it requires training and skills development,” says Grace. “Most major universities across the country offer access to SLM laser systems. Companies only have to ask!”

In the last decade we have witnessed a sudden advance of AM that continues as the technology available improves. 3D printing is already being applied in the aerospace and medical sectors, with SLM predicting the next big challenge will be the integration of selective laser melting technology into series production in the automotive industry. OEMs and Tier One suppliers focus on productivity and quality in their evaluation of the laser sintering process, as well as checking the final product or ‘built’ components. The SLM500 and SLM800 quad laser metal AM systems from SLM aim to satisfy these goals, with up to four 700W lasers offering high throughput.

According to SLM, the biggest advantage of laser sintering is the realisation of highly complex components, which cannot be produced cost-effectively with existing manufacturing processes. Small parts with significant complexity are highly suitable for 3D printing, but exciting developments are emerging in the automobile industry. Expert applications support from SLM aids in developing components optimised for selective laser melting, from prototype to production. For example, Audi is using metal AM with an SLM280HL purchased in 2016.

Reported as a ‘world first’ in the automotive industry, Bugatti Automobiles designed and 3D printed a titanium brake caliper for its new Chiron supercar. Offering considerable higher performance than aluminium with the alloy strength of titanium, the final geometrically complex component took 45 hours to build using an SLM500 machine. A total of 2,213 layers formed the structure, which on testing can stand 125kg per square millimetre pressure required for the Chiron braking system. Bugatti claims the final product is significantly stiffer and stronger than would have been possible using conventional processes. Prior to actually printing, three months were spent on design to optimise features, indicating the role and importance of DfAM.

At Audi, withi whom SLM continues to work closely, 3D metal printing is used to manufacture both prototypes and spare parts on demand. Audi’s vision is to ensure supply of original spare parts that can be built economically and sustainably in regional 3D metal printing centres, a whole new concept that would simplify logistics and reduce expensive warehousing.

“We acknowledge that 3D metal printing is disruptive technology, but laser systems bring manufacturing opportunities that may have never been possible in the past,” says Grace. “At times, challenges will arise, but we know by providing support and training to companies who have identified a way forward with 3D metal printing, local manufacturers and service providers will be well positioned to build a niche market and keep pace with the international AM sector.”