Interview: SLM Solutions discusses “milestone” 12-laser metal 3D printer

One of the biggest launch stories to come out of this year’s Formnext Connect was that of German metal additive manufacturing leader SLM Solutions‘ new multi-laser 3D printer. Now at the forefront an emerging trend for more multi-laser systems, the company swooped in to take the crown for most lasers with an impressive 12 lasers, each with 1 KW of power on board its NXG XII 600 system. 

It’s a huge machine, equipped with a large build envelope and print speeds promised at around 20 times that of single laser systems. Here, Sam O’Leary, COO of SLM Solutions Group, tells TCT about the machine’s capabilities, how those 12 lasers translate to more productivity, and how he believes the NXG XII 600 will pave the way to industrialised serial production.

Hi Sam. You just launched your new NXG XII 600 metal AM system at Formnext Connect – tell us about it.

The market launch of our new machine NXG XII 600 is a significant milestone for the manufacturing industry, as it revolutionises the industrialisation of metal additive manufacturing. The NXG XII 600 is equipped with 12 lasers, each with 1 KW of power and a square build envelope of 600 x 600 x 600 mm. It is the fastest machine on the market, around 20 times faster compared to a single laser machine and equipped with innovative technical features like the zoom function to achieve highest possible productivity. It is designed to be used in serial production for high-volume applications as well as for printing large parts, which opens new applications in the automotive and aerospace industries and paves the way to industrialised serial production. ­

What makes the machine such a step change compared to your current machine portfolio?

This is a step change on multiple levels; at a high level we have more than 4 times the laser power available enabling a massive productivity increase – making this the most productive machine in the market, all of this on a huge build platform. But looking beyond the high-level configuration the technical features are equally impressive; an optic system of unparalleled compactness, with zoom function, auto-calibration, faster re-coating, and a new machine software to mention a few. All of this, and much more makes this not just the future generation of our machines, but the future for the additive manufacturing industry.

You’ve previously shared that the machine will be “the most productive selective laser melting system available in the market” – how are you making that possible?

We now talk about productivity numbers exceeding 1,000cc/h – a step change from what the industry currently knows. To get there the team had to focus on many aspects and push previously considered technical boundary conditions.  Equipping a machine with 12kW of laser power is difficult enough, but that’s just the start of the technology enablement.  In order to exploit the massive power density, the NXG XII 600 is equipped with several innovative features like an enhanced gas-flow setup to deliver homogeneous part properties all over the building platform, an optimised chamber design and SLM Solutions’ patented and proven sinter-wall technology. Furthermore, we have reduced the fire-to-fire time by 40% and implemented an adjustable laser focus size – we call it Zoom function. This function enables spot size definition via a double lens system and boosts the build-up rate up to over 1,000cc/h.

Customers can also rely on the patented bi-directional recoating, which has been redesigned to be more compact and gas-flow optimised. This is how we not only achieve high productivity but also highest part quality.

Additionally, the NXG XII 600 features a robust machine design boasting a new thermal concept. This reduces drifts to a minimum and allows customers to print seamless parts stitched together with up to 12 lasers. Additionally, the machine comes with a brand-new UI concept focusing on the operator, which optimises the workflow and reduces training requirements. This once again underlines SLM Solutions’ focus on productivity, reliability, and safety.

What industries or applications is the new system targeted to? Have you been working with any beta customers prior to launch?

The NXG XII 600 is designed to be used in serial production for high-volume applications as well as for printing large parts, which opens new applications in the automotive and aerospace industries and paves the way to industrialised serial production. We’ve worked together with some of our partners and already achieved great part results using the NXG XII 600. The achieved speed and build times are incredibly impressive!  

Last time TCT spoke with SLM Solutions, we talked about how the company was stepping forward to industrialisation with improved productivity and parameter developments – how does this new machine address those ambitions?

Producing a higher yield of parts in a single build job enables mass production at low cost-per-part and thus industrialised and economical additive manufacturing.

To facilitate the integration of the NXG XII 600 into factories and supply chains, several automated features like an automatic build cylinder exchange, automatic build start as well as an external preheating station and external depowder station are part of the solution.

Additionally, our new zoom function enables spot size definition via a double lens system and is integrated into all 12 optics. It opens new possibilities in the parameter development.

SLM Solutions has also unveiled a new look this year, can you talk to us about the ethos behind the rebrand and what it means for the future of the company?

We have entered to a new era of additive manufacturing and the NXG XII 600 is definitely a game-changer. This step and our commitment to upward growth is reflected in our new brand. It’s a combination of past and future: we are proud of our past, our technology leadership, and at the same time we are a strong and powerful partner for our customers to master their future challenges

Last month, it was announced that SLM Solutions had joined the Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association (AMGTA) – how does this fit into that future vision?

As a manufacturer of production equipment, we have the moral responsibility to always be striving for a more sustainable future. Whether that’s the reduction of weight, local-for-local production, leaner supply chain, recyclable powders, etc. We believe it is an ongoing process that need continuous focus, because there’s always something that could be better. By partnering with AMGTA, SLM Solutions demonstrates its commitment and accountability to growing knowledge and research in this important field.

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