Milling machine includes laser welding head

Paul Boughton
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (IWS) in Dresden, Germany, have integrated a laser module into the tool station of a milling spindle. The five-axis, computer-controlled milling centre can now perform two jobs: three-dimensional deposition welding using a 1.5kW diode laser and component finishing using five-axis milling. The IWS's manufacturing experts will be exhibiting their two-in-one machining centre on the joint Fraunhofer stand at the Euromold trade show in Frankfurt from 3-6 December 2008 (Hall 8, Stand L113).

Dr-Ing Steffen Nowotny of the IWS states: "We linked all the processing steps on the basis of uniform CAD and NC data, and implemented them in a single machine with one tool fixture." The five-axis CNC machining centre is said to be suitable for performing repairs on mould inserts used for the manufacture of plastic components, and for machining finely structured surfaces and functional coatings on metallic components. Instead of having to discard damaged precision tools, they can now be returned to the workshop, reprocessed by the laser welding and milling machine, and reused –thereby saving costs and reducing expenditure on new tools.

The combination of laser cladding and milling is also a cost-effective method of manufacturing complex moulds and metallic components directly from a 3D CAD model. The machining system's high degree of automation and its multitasking capability are extremely useful attributes in applications such as aircraft engine maintenance and automobile construction, as Nowotny explains: "The software links together all the individual processes. This simplifies and speeds up the task of programming the machine."

Using a complete machining centre significantly improves process efficiency because the numerical control system regards the laser tool head and the milling spindle as interchangeable tools. The ability to switch rapidly and easily between milling and welding provides added flexibility, resulting in a machine that offers time savings in manufacturing processes.

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