Laser based solid free-form fabrication is an emerging metallurgical forming process aimed at rapid production of high quality, near net shape products directly from starting powders. Laser powder deposition shares, with other free-form technologies, the common characteristic that part fabrication occurs directly from a 3-D computer aided design (CAD) model. The microstructure evolution and resulting material properties of the component part (strength, ductility, etc.) fabricated using laser deposition are dependent upon process operating parameters such as melt pool size, laser power, head (manipulator) speed, and powder flow rate. Presently, set points for these parameters are often determined through manual manipulation of the system control and trial and error. This paper discusses the development of a path-planning, feed-forward, process-driven control system algorithm that generates a component part thermal history within given constraints, thereby assuring optimal part quality and minimizing final residual stresses. A thermal model of the deposition process drives the control algorithm. The development of the thermal model is the subject of this paper. The model accounts for temperature-dependent properties and phase change processes. Model validation studies are presented including comparisons with known analytic solutions as well as comparisons with data from experiments conducted in the laser laboratory at SDSM&T.

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