LLNL researchers are exploring the use of metal 3D printing to create strong, lightweight structures for advanced laser systems – an effort they say could alter the way lasers are designed in the future.
In a Laboratory Directed Research and Development program, physicist Ibo Matthews and his team are experimenting with a new research-based metal 3D printer, one of only four of its kind in the world, using a customized software platform capable of unprecedented design control.
The powder bed laser-melting printer, made by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology and German startup Aconity 3D, was installed in December 2015.
Matthews and his team are building on their experience in laser materials processing and interaction gained in support of both the National Ignition Facility and directed energy projects to develop new approaches to metal 3D printing.
NIF scientists are intrigued by the potential for the metal 3D printing platform to support lasers – not just at NIF, but in airborne systems that need to be extremely lightweight, such as those used for remote sensing and aerial scanning.
In the three-year LDRD project that began last year, Matthews and his team will be combining metal 3D printing with both high-fidelity optical diagnostics and high-performance computing to create more confidence in the parts they create.
Matthews added that the Lab’s newest machine will go a long way toward discovering the capabilities and application of metal 3D printing for laser design.