This paper proposes a novel method, called variable powder flow rate control (VPFRC), for the regulation of powder flow rate in laser metal deposition processes. The idea of VPFRC is to adjust the powder flow rate to maintain a uniform powder deposition per unit length even when disturbances occur (e.g., the motion system accelerates and decelerates). Dynamic models of the powder delivery system motor and the powder transport system (i.e., 5m pipe, powder dispenser, and cladding head) are constructed. A general tracking controller is then designed to track variable powder flow rate references. Since the powder flow rate at the nozzle exit cannot be directly measured, it is estimated using the powder transport system model. The input to this model is the dc motor rotation speed, which is estimated online using a Kalman filter. Experiments are conducted to examine the performance of the proposed control methodology. The experimental results demonstrate that the VPFRC method is successful in maintaining a uniform track morphology, even when the motion system accelerates and decelerates.

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