Everything You Need To Know About Laser Cladding

Laser cladding is an additive manufacturing technique that provides high-quality, precision-driven outputs. As high-energy lasers offer high-level control over the heat input, many organizations are moving toward this technology. Its design and flexibility have revolutionized the maintenance and repair of respective machine material surfaces.

Knowing everything about laser cladding is essential for many organizations, as it streamlines the remanufacturing process and reduces repair downtime.

What Is Laser Cladding and How Does It Work?

Laser cladding involves a laser beam that is used to melt and fuse a layer of material onto a substrate, creating a robust, protective, and functional coating. As the substance cools on the substrate, it hardens, becoming more wear-resistant than the material underneath. The process enhances the performance and longevity of industrial products, such as computer numerical control (CNC) machine components. It allows manufacturers to restore and remanufacture high-value components into their original geometry.

The laser cladding process, also known as laser metal deposition, allows for improvements on component surfaces, repairing damaged surfaces and eliminating signs of wear and tear. For example, a CNC machine spindle wears down over time, and laser cladding replaces the worn material back to the spindle, prolonging its life and maintaining its original dimensions.

The adoption of laser cladding technology continues to increase owing to its capabilities in various industries, including manufacturing component repair and prototyping.

Types of Laser Cladding

Depending on the application and project scope, manufacturers can use several laser cladding methods for best results, including:

  • Direct-energy disposition (DED): This process involves depositing and melting metal powder onto the substrate with a high-quality laser. DED differs from other additive manufacturing techniques as it’s primarily used to fix, coat, and add custom features to existing parts instead of making new ones. The powders used in DED systems are often larger and have higher energy density than those used in powder-fed laser cladding.
  • Powder-bed fusion (PBF): In this type of laser cladding, also called selective laser melting (SLM), the operator spreads a fine layer of power on a substrate to form a powder bed. A laser beam selectively melts and builds the layers to create a part. The process is quick and accurate, making it ideal for repairs and prototyping.
  • Wire-fed laser cladding: A laser melts a metal wire, depositing the molten material onto the substrate. This process creates a functional protective coating. As wire forms the feedstock instead of powdered material, this method differs from other laser cladding techniques. It’s common in the restoration of worn or damaged CNC components as it allows users to construct complex geometries.

The Advantages of Laser Cladding for Precision Part Repairs

Laser cladding provides significant benefits, streamlining coating and repair processes in precision manufacturing, including:

  • Precision and accuracy: Laser cladding has high forming accuracy, allowing manufacturers to create precise and accurate components. Users can place the performance-enhancing materials precisely where required, producing high-quality localized repairs on various elements. Once the process is complete, the workpiece becomes stronger than the original.
  • Reduced production times: The accuracy and precision of the laser cladding process minimize distortion on the substrate and streamline production output.
  • Material versatility: Manufacturers have complete control over the composition and microstructure of the protective coating and can choose from various materials.
  • Low heat and dilution: Laser cladding overlays are suitable for repairing even the most demanding components. The low heat input narrows the heat-affected zone and allows for minimal dilution between the substrate surface and the overlay material. It also protects the material properties of the substrate, preventing it from becoming too soft or hard.
  • Reduced material wastage and cost savings: With industries looking to boost sustainability and reduce emissions, minimizing waste is a priority for many organizations. Laser cladding reduces material waste and facilitates repairs instead of complete replacements, resulting in considerable cost savings. It’s also more cost-effective than other rebuild techniques.
  • Extended service life of new products: Depending on the application, laser cladding can do more than reinvigorate damaged equipment. It can also extend the service life of new products, achieving the effect of multiple life cycles in some cases.

Laser Cladding Materials and Applications

Laser cladding offers exceptional versatility as it’s suitable for multiple materials, including:

  • Metals and alloys: Metals are common in CNC machining and precision manufacturing, and laser cladding is suitable for stainless steel and alloys such as cobalt-chromium, aluminum, and nickel-based alloys. Tool steels are standard in manufacturing to enhance wear resistance and tool life.
  • Ceramics: Laser cladding suits ceramic materials such as alumina, zirconia, and tungsten carbide.
  • Metal matrix composites: These composites consist of part metal and part ceramic, housed within a metal matrix, making them ideally suited to laser cladding technologies.

The versatility and accuracy of laser cladding make it the preferred choice for many industries, from agriculture to aerospace. Common laser cladding uses include:

  • Cutting tools: Laser cladding materials can be used as protective layers against the rigors of manufacturing, including corrosion and wear and tear in precision machining. It also allows machine tools to maintain their cutting characteristics. As the process offers minimal distortion, cutting tools remain straight during machining. Users can also achieve a variety of coating thicknesses to suit the component’s requirements.
  • Engine and aerospace components: The aerospace and automotive industries use laser cladding to repair or restore worn parts. The process also enhances their surface quality and boosts durability and performance.
  • Drilling tools: Drilling tools in various industries undergo significant stress and need additional wear protection to promote longevity. Laser cladding provides the high precision, low porosity, low deformation, and high hardness required for these applications.
  • Industrial and manufacturing tools: CNC machines require robust and accurate components to, in turn, reproduce complex geometries with high accuracy and repeatability. Laser cladding rebuilds these components as strong as the original, reducing cost savings and boosting profitability.

Trends and Innovations in Laser Cladding

More organizations are showing interest in laser cladding, researching how competitive this technology is against existing solutions. Laser cladding lowers operating costs through high-quality remanufacture, alongside coating and protecting them against the rigors of their applications.

Due to its success and popularity, laser cladding technologies continue to evolve as manufacturers seek more efficient and effective ways to produce components for various industries. An exciting direction in laser cladding technology includes combining milling and laser cladding processes, allowing users to make multiple components with increasingly complex geometries.

The market is likely to continue to grow, despite challenges in the remanufacturing process, such as a lack of skilled operators. Recent innovations bode well for the laser cladding market, such as large spot laser cladding, which increases the size of the laser spot on the workpiece, allowing for increased laser power without excessive melting in the base material.

High-speed laser cladding melts the additive powder before reaching the base material, streamlining the laser cladding process. An increased demand for high-performance surface treatment and remanufacturing solutions, new applications, and material development will likely further market growth and innovation.

Leverage Laser Cladding in Your Next Spindle Repair With Setco

Laser cladding is an exciting technology, and continuous advancements in this area make repairs faster and more reliable. As the world’s largest independent spindle rebuilder, Setco has been innovating since 1912, using our extensive expertise to stay at the forefront of machining trends. We use laser cladding for spindle repairs and other critical services.

We rebuild over 14,000 spindles every year using a selection of the most effective technologies and systems. We set the standards for designing, manufacturing, and repairing spindles, slides, milling heads, and other components. Contact us to learn more about our spindle rebuild services and reduce your operation’s downtime today!


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