Report: Concept Laser has helped shape "additive manufacturing" for 15 years

Laser melting pioneer in a birthday mood

Concept Laser and LaserCUSING turn 15

Concept Laser has helped shape "additive manufacturing" for 15 years

Lichtenfels, 17.08.2015: Concept Laser, the pioneer of LaserCUSING and laser melting with metals, is turning 15. The start-up, founded in 2000, has developed rapidly over 15 years. Once an exotic outsider, additive manufacturing methods using 3D metal printing have taken over a wide variety of industrial fields during those 15 years. "The tide," says Frank Herzog, founder and CEO & President of Concept Laser "has turned: Until very recently, additive manufacturing was the domain of prototypes. Now we're seeing certain sectors enter massive industrial adaptation, while the aerospace industry is experiencing a complete paradigm shift."

The 15th anniversary of the foundation of Concept Laser coincides with a period of strong market growth. It is not for nothing that additive manufacturing is one of the catchwords of industry 4.0, where value creation is focused on automation and digital process and supplier chains.

Technological expertise put to the test 

Fifteen years of Concept Laser means fifteen years of successful process development.  Concept Laser has its own research and development department with more than 50 employees. In addition, the company is partner of numerous research and development co-operations with universities, technical-scientific institutions and industrial companies.

Moreover Concept Laser is owner of more than 50 granted patents. At present, the company owns approx. 100 pending patent applications. The majority of the patent applications will be granted in the near future. The number of inventions applied for patents by the company has been steadily growing.

One key strategic technology area for Concept Laser is in-situ process monitoring, and it is one that the machine manufacturer is expanding from 2016 to include the QMmeltpool 3D for three-dimensional real-time monitoring. In the context of the company's development activities, validation, further development of methods and materials certification are some of the key issues in Lichtenfels.

Beginnings often have a certain magic about them – milestones in the development phase

The existing plastic sintering technology led to development of the LaserCUSING method in 1998. As far as Frank Herzog was concerned, what worked for plastics must also work with metals. Stresses in the component and the failure of the metal powder to fuse completely were the major hurdles to begin with. This was remedied in part by Herzog's development of what is known as stochastic exposure, for which he filed a patent one year later. This process involves stochastic control of the slice segments (also referred to as "islands"), which are processed successively. The patented process significantly reduces tension during the manufacture of very large components. The second milestone was the use of a solid-state laser, which completely fused the component to a tenth of a millimeter, thereby ensuring dense components. This initial vision became a reality in the year 2000 when Kerstin and Frank Herzog founded Concept Laser GmbH. In 2001, the company presented its M3 linear prototype to the public at the Euromold in Frankfurt, Germany. From 2002, Concept Laser delivered the world's first 3D metal printing systems. At this time, Oliver Edelmann joined the management team. He later went on to become a partner, building up professional sales and marketing structures, a portfolio that he manages to this day. In 2002, Concept Laser also developed the hybrid construction method combining machining and additive manufacturing in a single component. This makes it possible to produce tool inserts and other parts cost-effectively: "simple" contours are machined in a conventional way while complex parts of the component are printed. In 2005, the company began developing parallel and surface cooling.

Milestones in the market expansion phase

By 2004, it was time for the machine manufacturer to try something new: processing reactive materials, such as titanium or aluminum. This expansion in materials in 2007 was based on the new M2 cusing model, a system in the mid-sized build envelope segment (250x250x280mm3), which to this day is one of the company's classic bestsellers The first QM system for monitoring the build process came out in 2009. In 2010, Concept Laser presented QMmeltpool, a quality module that can monitor the surface area and intensity of the melt pool. The same year, the Mlab cusing model was launched. This model provided a smaller build volume (50x50, 70x70, 90x90, z=80mm3). The Mlab cusing is used to manufacture watch components, jewelry or dental prostheses. This beginner's model altered the business model for dental laboratories, for example, and played an important part in switching over from manual production to automated mass production in a print center. It was followed in 2011 by QMcoating for monitoring and controlling the coating process. From this year on, the annual sales growth was already between 30 and 50 percent. In summary, we can see that the intensive research and development work at Concept Laser GmbH leads to a new innovation approximately every three years.

Milestones in the company's current expansion phase

In the meantime, in 2012, Concept Laser achieved a major success: it presented what was then the world's largest laser melting machine (630x400x500mm3), developed with and for Daimler AG. This made it possible to significantly increase build rates using the then-standard 400W lasers. The key component in the X line 1000R is a high-performance laser in the kilowatt range that makes it possible to increase productivity by a factor of as much as 10 compared to other commercially available laser melting systems. The X line 1000R also features a rotating mechanism for alternating use of two build modules, enabling continuous production in parallel operation without downtime. Tooling and detooling can take place in the second build module on the opposite side of the machine in parallel to the build process. The X line 1000R is primarily used in the automotive and aerospace sectors. From this time, the large machines segment became the company's number 1 driver of growth, a position that it holds to this day. As a result, the company grew by an above-average 75% in 2014. That same year, the company began equipping machines with the multilaser technology, specifically 2x200W, 2x400W in the new M2 cusing, or 2x1,000W. This latter combination resulted in the X line 2000R, a system that combines the world's largest build space (800x400x500mm3) with the strongest laser output (2x1,000W). In 2015, Concept Laser also premiered 3D mapping in real time. QMmeltpool 3D will be available from 2016 – an important step in improving quality. But increasing productivity is also an important aspect of current development projects, so we can expect to find four laser sources in a single machine in the foreseeable future.

Global presence

Today, more than 400 laser melting systems from Concept Laser are in operation around the world. At the end of 2014, there were 259 systems in use in Europe, 62 in the Americas, 76 in Asia and 4 in Africa and Australia. If we look at machine sales in recent years, Concept Laser is without a doubt one of the world's leading companies when it comes to the powder bed-based laser melting method.
With the growing importance of the American market, in addition to Europe, Concept Laser founded a subsidiary in Grapevine, Texas, USA, in 2014, which now counts more than 10 employees.