Ten companies have teamed in a $3 million project to commercialize a "pivotal" manufacturing technology. The Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) project uses computer-controlled lasers that, in hours, weld air-blown streams of metallic powders into custom parts and manufacturing molds. The technique is said to produce shapes close enough to the final product to eliminate the need for rough machining. To date, the technology has worked at Sandia National Laboratories. However, the purpose of the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) is to produce an industrial tool that works automatically, robustly, and without constant supervision. In the technique, nozzles direct a stream of metal powder at a central point beneath them. Simultaneously, that point is heated by a high-powered laser beam. The laser and jets remain stationary, while the model and its substrate move to provide continually new targets on which to deposit metal. Dave Keicher, vice president of Optomec, a small Albuquerque, NM, company, plans to produce LENS as a commercial product. email@example.com.
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