Where Are They Now? Modular Hybrid Manufacturing with Optomec

Project Titles: Development of a Low-Cost LENS® Engine; AM Laser Powder Feed Repair (Reborn)

America Makes Project Numbers: 4022; 4037

The Projects:

One of the primary barriers to entry into the field of additive manufacturing (AM) is the significant investment it requires. A manufacturer must purchase machines, materials, and afford the upkeep of the various equipment. In 2016, America Makes and Optomec teamed up over a span of two projects to considerably decrease that overall investment barrier. Both projects involved the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Project 4022 (Development of a Low-Cost LENS® Engine) set out to make an additive module that can be attached to traditional subtractive manufacturing machinery. This module made it significantly easier for companies to begin to dabble in AM for several reasons. For starters, it is  more economical, saves space rather than purchasing another machine, and involves training that is less intensive.  Another benefit is that this module could be operated by the individual controlling the existing manufacturing machinery. In addition to America Makes and Optomec, MachMotion, TechSolve, Lockheed Martin, and Benet Labs were also partners on this project.

Project 4037, on the other hand, establishes how to use these big purchases.

The AM Laser Powder Feed Repair (Reborn) project set out to establish best practices when it comes to Directed Energy Deposition part repair. By the time the project ended, the process was deemed acceptable by the government agencies, and now the entire America Makes membership has access to Ti-6AI-4V component repair.

In a video previously made by America Makes, Tom McDonald, then-senior project manager at Optomec, said the project generated a lot of data related specific to “high-reliability applications involving aircraft engines and airframes.”

The importance of this project and the importance of America Makes were highlighted in tandem by the sheer number of members working together. Penn State, Concurrent Technologies, United Technologies Research, Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, UConn, Corpus Christi Army Depot, TechSolve, GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin, EWI, and Rolls-Royce all collaborated to present these best practices.

Where Are They Now?

The first LENS® Machines made their debut at IMTS in 2016. Consumer shipments began in Q1 2017. At IMTS 2018, Optomec introduced another version of the LENS® Engine, LENS 860 Hybrid Controlled Atmosphere (CA) System. The LENS empire now spans five different models of machines.

This project allowed hybrid manufacturing to  gain a much larger share of the market. It also opened the door for other companies to begin producing their own hybrid manufacturing modules.

When it comes to 4037, McDonald also called it a “steppingstone as far as advancing the acceptance and furthering the adopting of additive repairs.”

Riding the back of these blockbuster projects with America Makes, Engine Optomec reported 40% growth in 2019. Optomec later announced a “sharp increase in bookings during fiscal year 2021” of LENS® Engines, leading to a total installed base of 600 machines across more than 250 customers. Optomec has testimonials from industry leaders on the successes of the LENS® engines.

America Makes has also expounded upon these successes by working on more hybrid manufacturing projects, including the Institute’s cornerstone MAMLS projects. You can see the evolution of hybrid manufacturing projects by checking out our Projects page.

Throughout its existence, the story of AM has been all about potential. These two projects have not only helped additive further live up to its potential, but also vastly increase the heights that additive can still reach.