Three-dimensional additive manufacturing or solid freeform fabrication (SFF) techniques, originated in the rapid fabrication of non-functional physical prototypes in polymers (Rapid Prototyping), have matured to the manufacture of functional prototypes, short-run production products, and now even advanced engineering designs. Laser-based material deposition or laser cladding has been used as a SFF technique, in which a laser beam is used as a precise high-energy thermal source to melt preplaced or pneumatically delivered metal powders and make solidified deposits on a substrate. By using laser cladding techniques, three-dimensional fully dense components can be built line-by-line and layer-by-layer directly from a CAD model with tailored material properties. Laser cladding is essentially a fusion and solidification (thermal) process, which involves complicated interactions between the laser beam, metal powders, the base material (substrate), and processing gases. Maintaining a stable and uniform melt pool during laser cladding is critical to produce dimensional accuracy and material integrity. An effective control of energy (laser power) spatial and temporal distributions in either an open-loop or closed-loop laser cladding process is essential to achieve the high quality results. This paper reviews, from a laser-material interaction point of view, various laser cladding based SFF processes, and particularly the direct metal deposition technique.

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