Some six months ago, Valve World sent me to Berlin to attend a trade show for the 3D printing industry, to see if and how 3D printing and additive manufacturing might be valuable tools for the valve industry
At the time, I was really impressed by just how far the technologies had evolved, but found myself agreeing with the experts I talked to who said that 3D could potentially capture about five per cent of “real manufacturing” at best.
However, I’ve just come back from another trip to the East of Germany, where a visit to engineering company KSD has given me cause to reconsider. For KSD has been using laser welding to very good effect in the production of components such as seals for the valve and pump sectors, amongst others.
On arrival, the Product Development Manager Mr Jürgen Kästner explained that KSD is using laser welding to clad layers to base materials, which are then subsequently machined to create final components for equipment such as valves and pumps. The layers are designed to provide say higher corrosion or erosion resistance where needed, such as on the seats of safety relief valves, for example.
But there’s a second point which makes the work being done by KSD especially interesting. For they have taken laser welding to a next level, developing a system they are calling Rapid Laser Materials Manufacturing, or R:LM2 for short, which enables the computer-assisted development of new materials and laser-based manufacturing.
Mr Kästner gave me a simple description, as follows: “You take various metal powders and create a simulation with the new material on the computer, which is apparent from their compound. You mix the powders, merge them in the laser beam, and then layer-by-layer place the new material in the desired geometry. The Rapid Laser Manufacturing technology is therefore the happy marriage of materials simulation and component development from the direct materials planning laser procedures.”
To put this into perspective, Mr Kästner said it is important to realise that the standard range of alloy powders available for laser cladding is quite limited and that prices can be high. In theory at least, KSD could therefore develop and apply completely new clad materials that are tailor-made to suit specific customer applications.
In short, KSD have provided a fine example of how 3D and additive manufacturing is being used to very good effect in valve manufacture. Check out a more detailed report planned for a future issue of Valve World magazine.
For more info on R:LM2 (German), please visit their website website.