Laser Metalz: Bionic Design Is The Next Frontier For 3D Printing

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Frank Herzog is the founder and CEO of Concept Laser, which makes the world’s largest industrial printer for metals. His printers can already produce delicate jewelry and medical implants as well as massive engine blocks for trucks. They even started printing “bionic” components for planes. “Bionic design allows you to adapt structures from nature and find the most optimal solution,” says Daniel Hund, Concept Laser’s marketing director.

Last fall, GE acquired a majority stake in Herzog’s company and folded Concept Laser into GE Additive, a new GE business dedicated to supplying 3D printers, materials and engineering consulting services. GE Reports visited Concept Laser in May. Take a look at some of the components Herzog’s machines printed.

Top image and above: A bionic concept design for an Airbus jet. Concept Laser machines are already printing “bionic” aircraft parts like wing brackets for Airbus A350 XWB jets (above). The bracket earned Herzog and two of his colleagues at Airbus the prestigious German federal president’s prize in 2015. Images credit: Airbus Operations

The titanium bracket is 30 percent lighter than its conventionally manufactured predecessor. Image courtesy of Airbus.

Engineers applied bionic design to remodel and 3D print this valve. “Bionic design allows you to adapt structures from nature and find the most optimal solution,” says Concept Laser’s Hund. Image credit: Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH and iLAS—Technische Universitat Hamburg-Harburg.

3D printing will allow doctors to make customized surgical tools. Image credit: Fraunhofer IWU

Concept Laser machines also print medical implants like this hip joint replacement part. Image credit: Concept Laser.

Besides design freedom, 3D printing can also save material. Above: The bracket on the left was produced by a conventional “subtractive” method from the metal cube on the left. Most of the input material became waste—the large cube in the middle. The bracket on the right was 3D printed on a Concept Laser machine from a metal powder (the third cube from the left). The waste fit in the small cube on the right. Image credit: Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH & Technische Universitat Hamburg-Harburg.

The jewelry designer Michaella Janse van Vuuren used a 3D printer to make this piece of jewelry. Image credit: Michaella Janse van Vuuren.

A 3D printed dental implant. Image credit: LAC-Laser Add Center GmbH.

A 3D printed medical component. Mohammad Ehteshami, who runs GE Additive, says that 3D printing requires a different design mindset. “You need a new way of thinking, you need different training, you need different machines,” he says. “This whole ecosystem is quite different from how we did things before.” Image credit: Concept Laser.

A 3D printed aerospace component. Concept Laser machines can print parts from stainless steel as well as titanium, aluminum, cobalt and nickel alloys and other metals. Image credit: Concept Laser.

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