Car manufacturers partnering with “area printing” firm

In “A new type of 3D printing may bring it into the mainstream“, The Economist highlights “Area Printing.”

This got Mr DeMuth and a group of colleagues thinking about how to speed things up without compromising quality. After some work, they started using a device called an optically addressed light valve, which had been developed at llnl. This permits a pulsed infrared laser, with its beam shaped to have a square cross-section, to be patterned with a high-resolution image. Working a bit like a photographic negative, the image can block or pass light, creating millions of tiny laser spots, much like the pixels that make up a digital image.

When projected onto a bed of powder, this patterned laser light can weld a complete area in one go. Mr DeMuth likens the process to producing documents with a printing press instead of writing them out individually with a pen.

In 2015 Mr DeMuth co-founded Seurat Technologies, to commercialise the technology. This Massachusetts-based firm is named after Georges Seurat, a post-impressionist French artist who pioneered a painting style called pointillism that builds pictures up from dots. Several companies, including GM and Volkswagen, a pair of carmakers, Siemens Energy, a division of a large German group, and Denso, a big Japanese components firm, have partnered with Seurat to explore the use of its first prototype area-printing machine.

This prototype produces a series of small, patternable squares on the powder bed. Their size depends on the material. Aluminium requires 15mm squares. Titanium requires 13mm. Steel requires 10mm. Individually, these squares might seem small. But 40 of them can be printed adjacent to each other every second, so a large area can be covered quickly. The prototype was designed to work at this scale to keep the size of the laser and the amount of energy it consumes to a practical level.

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