High-speed sintering has been the talk of the tech du jour when it comes to polymer productivity, but at TCT Asia, Daniel O'Connor found out how Farsoon has an ace up a selective laser sintered sleeve.
The Farsoon stand at TCT Asia 2019 in Shanghai was one of the biggest on the show floor. Despite showcasing two new machines, the team directed my attention directly to a transparent tube, a tube crammed with hundreds of the same small part that towered above the exhibit. The tube is a representation of speed, the speed at which Farsoon's new Flight Technology sinters powdered material into finely detailed parts.
On the said tube, markers show the print times of its other models in comparison to a technology making its world debut right here in Shanghai. The new Flight system prints over five times faster than any previous Farsoon SLS model thanks to a new scanning system and, importantly, a change from a CO2 to a fiber laser.
“SLS has been around for more than twenty years, but the problem has always been in the levels of productivity.” Dr. Xu Xiaoshu, Chairman of Farsoon Technologies tells me. “It's not a limitation of the scanning system; your laser power is the limitation. SLS machines normally use a CO2 laser, but there are more powerful lasers, a fiber laser for instance, but the problem with fiber lasers is nobody had figured out a way to make the materials absorb the light.”
Farsoon has some 100 people working in R&D, steered by Dr. Xu's three decades of experience on sintering technology, that team did find a way to make a fiber laser work, and it started with the materials.
“This is a beauty of Farsoon.” says Dr. Xu. “We not only have machines but material development capabilities too, our material group found a chemical that would increase how powders absorb light from fiber lasers, and we have almost unlimited laser power now. Today we use a 500 watt, but 1,000 watts, 5,000 watts? It's not an issue any more.”
According to Farsoon's specs, the increased laser power, improved energy distribution to the material, and smaller laser spot size, equals a scanning speed of over 66ft/s, roughly four times that of comparable technologies. Contrary to the usual metrics faster does not mean lower quality either, printing feature details as small as 0.3mm owing to a unique scanning system with fully open parameters.
“Usually, if you want fine features you don't have productivity and vice-versa, but with Flight Technology we can achieve both.” says Dr. Xu. “Our customers say that with this technology they should be able to grab a significant chunk of injection molding business.”
Although excited, Farsoon is realistic about the work that needs to be done on this system in order to realize its potential. One instantly recognizable difference between traditionally sintered Nylon parts and parts from the Flight system is the color, Managing Director of Farsoon's European arm, Dirk Simon explains: “Fiber lasers have a different wavelength from CO2 lasers, so the interaction between the laser light and material is different, We've added the black chemical colorant to control the interaction between the laser and the powder. There might be other ways to control the absorption that are not black, we're working on it and we're asking materials companies to think about developing materials that are suitable for fiber lasers.”
The fact that the SLS technology the Flight system is built on has well established processes is a crucial message for Farsoon. It will leverage this to fight back for slices of the pie, High-Speed Sintering has wrestled from SLS.
“With High-speed Sintering, you not only require the powders and the light source, but you also need to work with printheads and binders.” says Dr. Xu, “With Flight Technology, you can achieve high speeds with the laser source, and the powder alone and this technology is not going to be significantly more expensive than any other SLS machinery. ”
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