Almost all industries hold copper in high regard for its high electrical and thermal conductivity. But it is these excellent properties which also turn the processing of copper in additive manufacturing into a particular challenge. Heraeus has designed a process which allows highly conductive copper to be processed by customary laser beam melting (LBM) equipment.
Copper is extremely reflective in exactly the same wavelength range as that of standard lasers. Very often, customary LBM equipment will therefore fail to bring enough energy into the material to remelt an amount of it sufficient to make dense components. In the past, two major options were available to overcome this problem, i.e. either less conductive copper alloys were used or the existing machinery was converted with great effort and at high costs. Heraeus' process experts now managed to design a multi-stage process based on using standard LBM equipment to process micro- and low-alloyed copper in an economically feasible manner. It achieves densities of 99.8% and an electrical conductivity of more than 90% IACS.
Owing to these extremely favourable characteristics, the benefits of additive manufacturing are now also open to highly conductive copper components. The cooling capacity of high-end applications, for example, can be optimized by adapting the mould's fluid mechanics to the use case concerned.
Heraeus Group is deploying the process for various purposes such as the production of sophisticated heat sinks. In this case, the production tolerances of conventional production methods are not close enough to ensure the reproducibility of particularly susceptible processes. Thus, additive manufacturing of highly conductive copper helps Heraeus make high-quality products for laser transfer.
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