This article reports that rapid prototyping has evolved from a relatively simple modeling technique that allows design engineers to "test" their ideas in three dimensions to a sophisticated custom-manufacturing tool that may one day find its place alongside the copy machines at the local copy center or in the parts department at the local automobile dealership. Direct metal deposition is a laser-melting process that uses a powder nozzle to deposit metal powder onto existing tools to build the components layer by layer. While the last few years have seen the development of new rapid-prototyping technologies and processes that overcome the geometry problem, the available materials have not had adequate properties to enable them to build production-quality parts. INSET: High-power lasers enable metal-powder prototyping.
The article reports on the research about the significance of fiber lasers for rapid prototyping conducted by SPI Lasers, a Southampton, England-based firm which specializes in power fiber lasers used in the industrial market. The researchers try to show that rapid prototyping can be further improved through better surface finish and increased fill density made possible by fiber lasers. Moreover, it was emphasized that the temporal and spatial stability of fiber lasers help in the improvement in layer uniformity.