Products today are increasingly miniaturized, made of more exotic materials, and require less time from conception to time to market. The fabrication of these components and of their tools for large scale serial reproduction, such as injection molds and dies, faces a new challenge: maximum accuracy, flexibility and speed. Guided by this new paradigm, research at the Laboratory for Sustainable and Advanced Processes (LAPRAS) involves new manufacturing roadmaps using new production processes.
The selective laser sintering process allows for the fabrication of components applied to dies and molds, as well as parts for prototypes or even for final applications, with minimum energy consumption and waste generation. Based initially on the use of plastic for prototypes, this process today uses concentrated laser energy to melt metal powder, producing sintered parts in 3D shapes and dimensions very close to their net shape. This means that minimal energy is expended and final machining is required only in certain cases. Figure 1 shows a schematic of the process and some of its initial applications
Figure 1 – (a) Selective laser sintering schematic. (b) Dental implant obtained by this process. (c) Final component.
In response to the increasing miniaturization of products, and hence, of their mechanical components, which are often highly complex, research into microfabrication is also ongoing, exploring the manufacture of dies and molds, as well as of final components of small volumes or containing details in micrometric dimensions. This is exemplified in Figure 2, which illustrates the machining of a micro heat exchanger on which cooling fins were machined.
Figure 2 – Copper micro heat exchanger machined by the milling process