Additive manufacturing is based on the use of laser technologies to add material, providing numerous benefits in production processes in sectors such as rail, aeronautics, petrochemical and automotive. However, the process development cost and strong dependence of highly skilled operators are constraints that are limiting its introduction into industry.
In order to overcome these difficulties and boost the transfer of these technologies to the market, the Cladplus research project, in which IK4-IDEKO is participating, seeks to increase the reliability of the laser cladding technique in sectors such as aeronautics and petrochemicals.
Also participating in the initiative, called Cladplus, which is part of the Spanish Government’s Collaboration Challenges programme and has a budget of 2.8 million euros, are the Basque machine tool companies Danobat (which is leading the project) and Soraluce, as well as the Seville company Uniláser and the Galician technological centre Aimen.
The mission of the project, which started in 2014 and ends next year, is to develop control mechanisms that make it possible to guarantee the reliability of laser cladding, an additive manufacturing and part repair technique used in fields such as component restoration, the generation of corrosion and wear resistant coatings, and prototyping.
At present, laser cladding can lead to small variations that might cause harmful microstructural defects for part operation.
Moreover, the process development cost is high because it must be carried out specifically for each type of component and requires the presence of highly skilled operators.
The project focuses on applications with high mechanical properties, sensitive to chemical corrosion and subject to high temperatures, such as blade repair for the aeronautical sector, valve coating and shaft repair for the petrochemical sector and restoration of glass injection moulds.
The main technological innovation of the Cladplus project lies in the fact that it jointly addresses the technologies needed to overcome difficulties like the process development cost and the high dependence of highly skilled operators.
The IK4-IDEKO contribution
Cladplus is based on the consolidated experience of the manufacturers and technology centres that make up the consortium, both in their knowledge of laser technologies and of industrial manufacturing mechanisms.
In particular, the IK4-IDEKO Manufacturing Processes research line is designing and developing a vision-based mechanism for geometric analysis of the paths followed by the laser cladding process. Is also responsible for the development of laser cladding nozzles, in collaboration with the other participating companies.
It is also participating in the development and implementation of a closed control system, in conducting pilot tests for monitoring the process and in analysis of signals in order to define the rules that govern it.
The centre in Elgoibar, along with the other technological players, is charged with the implementation of pilot tests for the cladding process, as well as the subsequent characterisation of the tests.
It is also taking the lead in the task of correlating data obtained from monitoring and characterization of the process against the parameters used, and is participating in pilot tests for laser cladding on real components.
On their part, Danobat will focus on work related with aeronautical turbine blades, Soraluce on coating on the inside of valves for petrochemical use, and Uniláser on shaft repair and restoration of glass injection moulds.