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Layerwise, a company based in Leuven, Germany, focuses on selective laser melting (SLM), a technology that shapes any desired metal part geometry by melting metal powder layer by layer.

Using this digital approach, the optimum shape of complex circulation parts can be produced in a single manufacturing step.

According to Layerwise, these parts not only deliver better performance, they are also more reliable than the complicated assembly they replace.

The company also recommends SLM technology for small metal products, of which thousands can be produced simultaneously.

In addition to industrial applications, the company manufactures orthopedic, maxillofacial and dental implants.

Layerwise said it can produce high-grade parts in any preferred metal alloy using less material and no scrap, reducing unit weight by up to 80 per cent.

‘At Layerwise, we reverse the entire [design] process,’ said Jonas Van Vaerenbergh, director of the industrial division of Layerwise.

‘Our core business is selective laser melting (SLM), a technology developed to build up material in layers instead of removing it in different steps.

‘In the meantime, we have optimised the process for a variety of metals and alloys, such as rust-proof steel, hardenable steel, titanium, aluminium and inconel,’ he added.

In the machine, a high-precision laser is directed to metal powder particles in order to selectively build up a 20 to 40 micron horizontal metal layer.

The metal powder particles pinpointed by the laser quickly and fully melt so that the new material properly attaches to the previous layer, without glue or binder liquid.

The powerful fibre laser with high energy intensity operating in the inert area inside the machine guarantees that metal parts being built up exhibit a dense and homogenous material structure.

CAD directly drives the machine without requiring any programming, clamping or tooling.

The SLM approach is capable of simultaneously producing metal parts of different shapes in series of up to 2,500 pieces.

In addition to producing small components efficiently, SLM can reduce limitations in terms of geometry.

Van Vaerenbergh explains that the layered approach ensures that the laser gains systematic access to any location while building up parts.

In this way, the most complex part shapes can be produced, including recess, ribs, cavities and internal features.

Layerwise recently produced a burner component for Diametal.

Similar to machine manufacturers for food and pharmaceutical companies, this company is regularly challenged with producing complex circulation pieces such as mixers, inlet and outlet components, dispensers, coupling parts and heat exchangers.

Layerwise applied SLM to manufacture this component as one unit in a single production step.

This is called function integration, because this SLM-produced component replaces multiple parts manufactured using conventional metalworking processes.

Assembling these parts takes time, particularly because they need to be connected hermetically, reducing reliability altogether.

Van Vaerenbergh said that function integration makes SLM fit for resolving miniaturisation, leakage and assembly issues.

An example of efficient and flexible design was the production of a component that connects cooling ducts.

First, the additive manufacturing process realised a 75 per cent weight reduction.

Second, designers were able to reduce flow resistance by defining channel geometry using freeform surfaces.

Layerwise produced the part exactly according to the functional CAD design, resulting in an improvement of the circulation properties by 80 per cent.

Using SLM’s freedom of shape, the cooling channels can be positioned in conformity with the mould shape.

Optimised channel geometry and location ensure a better controlled cooling process that delivers higher-quality parts that do not warp and contain fewer hot spots.

The Layerwise production centre in Belgium focuses on this additive production process for metal parts.

‘We are able to produce with 15 micron geometric accuracy and build up walls as thin as 0.2mm, something that is extremely difficult – if not impossible – using conventional technologies,’ said Van Vaerenbergh.

After parts are taken out of the production machines, finishing actions begin.

If desired, conventional metalworking actions can be applied, such as drilling, cutting and EDM.

It is also possible to have certain component surfaces hardened.

As a concluding step, customers can opt for a high-gloss polishing finish.

Layerwise is also involved in the medical industry, for which the company manufactures implant-supported suprastructures, for example.

On the basis of patient-specific geometry data, acquired through medical imaging or three-dimensional scanning, the personalised structure is designed in software and printed in titanium straightaway.

As a concluding step, the dental technician finishes off the structure and completes the final prosthesis.

Dentwise suprastructures are manufactured using ultra-strong titanium alloy (Ti6Al4V, grade V), which is said to outperform the commonly used titanium grade II in terms of mechanical properties.

Layerwise also specialises in other medical applications.

During a major maxillofacial reconstruction, surgeons inserted a zygoma manufactured by Layerwise.

The complex shape of the implant was digitally derived through medical imaging and produced using SLM technology.

This approach offers the ability to restore the facial symmetry of patients almost perfectly.

Concerning orthopedic implants, the process of building up metal in layers offers the possibility to design porous bone-replacing structures and integrate them into prostheses.

This allows for excellent long-term fixation.

In addition to personalised implants, designed on the basis of medical imaging, the SLM technology is used for manufacturing medical instrumentation.

For this purpose, Layerwise offers a number of biocompatible metal alloys.

Layerwise

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