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Selective laser melting is a rapid manufacturing process in which a laser fuses metallic particles to make a three dimensional component, part, or object. This technique can be used to make a part in a few hours for use as a prototype or as part of a device. It has potential applications in manufacturing, medical sciences, and car racing, among many other fields. The necessary equipment varies in cost, depending on size and the full array of features available.
This process relies heavily on computer aided design (CAD). A designer can create a three dimensional CAD file and feed it to the laser controller. The controller uses the information in the file as a blueprint to make the component. This allows for a high degree of accuracy and eliminates the need for machining parts, which can cut production costs. The process can also cut down significantly on waste, which may be important for environmental as well as economic reasons for some companies.
In selective laser melting, an inert environment is necessary. Very small particles of metal are placed on a tray and the laser moves layer by layer to fabricate the component by heating the metal so it fuses together. This layered manufacturing technique can allow for production of parts in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, including very complex metallic parts. When the piece is complete, the chamber can be opened to take it out.
Facilities that use selective laser melting collect the raw material after production to allow for reuse. This cuts down on waste and limits costs associated with the process, as the firm uses as much of the metal it orders as possible in production. A variety of metals can be used, including alloys, to make parts designed for varying environments and applications. Firms can use materials databases to determine which materials would be most appropriate for their needs.
Selective laser melting equipment usually consists of a large cabinet with an enclosed chamber to create the controlled environment needed to produce components. It can be installed on a factory floor, or in a lab environment for workers to readily access. Firms that do not want to purchase equipment may be able to lease or rent for specific applications, including trials to determine if the equipment is suitable for their needs. It is also possible to contract out rapid manufacturing services like selective laser melting to another company which can handle the fabrication of components as needed.