Balancing the digital manufacturing equation with advanced subtractive technology

3 min read

For a growing number of companies, digital manufacturing is an essential part of efficient product development and prototyping.The ability to quickly build a prototype, test piece, or even a functional component from a design file not only reduces time to market but allows manufacturers to stay competitive in a constantly changing market.

The terms digital or rapid prototyping are most often associated with additive manufacturing. However, as engineering product manager David Richter of Universal Laser Systems confirms, a modern digital manufacturing strategy, one that delivers high flexibility and process capability, can only be achieved by balancing additive methods with advanced subtractive technology.

The success of modern product development and manufacturing efforts depends increasingly on being able to iterate quickly, test innovative ideas and shorten time to market. Products must be designed, materials evaluated, prototypes tested, and parts manufactured faster than ever. With access to the right technology, agile teams can quickly go from design to production, using fewer resources and meeting customer demand. A comprehensive rapid prototyping and manufacturing strategy offers an obvious advantage to businesses looking to keep their products and services competitive.

Although sophisticated and highly capable, additive manufacturing technologies are actually just one segment of rapid prototyping and manufacturing. Digital subtractive systems increase capability by offering complementary functionality with similar flexibility and speed.

Flexibility, precision and speed – essential attributes

When selecting subtractive technology to work alongside additive manufacturing systems, it is essential that the system chosen is capable of matching or exceeding the quality and performance of the 3D technology, working flexibly, accurately and efficiently. David Richter of Universal Laser Systems explains why digital laser technology, specifically the company’s new ULTRA 9 system for laser cutting, drilling and marking, delivers the perfect balance when combining additive and subtractive methods.

“Our ULTRA 9 technology brings another dimension to rapid product development and prototyping by offering virtually unlimited potential to process a vast range of materials with extreme precision. Our advanced system produces components in less time, often just seconds or minutes, eliminating the need for lengthy setup or hard tooling. This allows for rapid evaluation of different materials to improve product performance and durability or provide unique functionality.”

At the core of ULTRA 9 is the flexibility to process virtually any material by allowing users to select the ideal combination of wavelength and power for their application. The system supports up to 3 laser sources and wavelengths: CO2 in 10.6um & 9.3um and Fibre in 1.06um, with power options ranging from 10 to 150 watts. Using patented MultiWave Hybrid technology, the ULTRA 9 is even able to optimise energy absorption by focusing any combination of 3 wavelengths, either consecutively or simultaneously, onto one focal point on the target material. This enables the system to process the broadest range of materials, including multi-layer laminates and complex composites.

The ULTRA 9 is able to optimise energy absorption by focusing any combination of 3 wavelengths either consecutively or simultaneously into one focal point

Today, product designers, engineers and manufacturers alike demand high quality and finish even on prototype parts. The ULTRA 9 addresses this by providing high baseline precision and extreme “tune-ability” to allow users to adjust the laser output to their application. The ULTRA 9 is able to provide consistent and repeatable results through stable laser energy delivery and selectable power density. The ULTRA 9 motion system also incorporates advanced path planning and addressable beam positioning as low as 2 um, which help maintain part dimensional integrity. The unmatched ability of the ULTRA 9 to control and fine-tune these critical laser parameters sets a new standard in processing quality.

Not only does the ULTRA 9 produce high quality repeatable results, it is also very efficient. Throughput is optimised with a maximum beam positioning speed of 3810 mm / sec (150 in/sec) for vector processing and a maximum raster material processing speed of more than 7620 mm/sec (300 in/sec). Through advanced path planning and other features like material-independent autofocus, high quality results are consistently achieved in the shortest possible processing time.

Richter sums up: “It’s clear that having subtractive laser technology such as our ULTRA 9 system available alongside 3D additive systems boosts productivity and opens up new manufacturing possibilities. The ability to quickly produce high quality components in the final material maximises manufacturing capability. With material flexibility, precision, and efficiency, the Ultra 9 checks all the boxes.”

Universal Laser Systems will be showcasing the ULTRA 9 and demonstrating the benefits of subtractive laser technology as part of a comprehensive rapid product development and prototyping strategy at the forthcoming TCT Show at the NEC in Birmingham between the 24th and 26th September 2019.