Ultra-versatile HYBRID Multi-Tasking machines, such as Mazak’s VC-500 AM, are designed for easy maintenance, but present some special maintenance requirements due to their combination of additive and subtractive technologies.
How it works
The VC-500 AM’s two interchangeable laser cladding heads reside side-by-side with the subtractive machining spindle and provide options for high rate and fine metal deposition. During operation, the VC-500 AM uses fiber laser heat to melt the chosen metal powder that will be used to grow the near-net-shape 3D forms. Once the part features are grown to near net shapes, the VC-500 AM then applies one or more of its advanced subtractive processes--including milling and drilling--to complete the part.
Maintenance tips and tricks
Here are a few maintenance tips and tricks we recommend to help keep your VC-500 AM running in top condition.
Remove excess metal powder
Excess metal powder from the additive process must be washed from the machine table and fixtures with coolant to prevent interference during subtractive operations. This also helps the machine’s linear guideways remain clear of debris, which is key for them to function smoothly. The machine uses a special filtration system to ensure through-spindle coolant is free of any metal powder.
Check the laser’s protective lens
It is imperative that you routinely check the protective lens on the high-rate laser head for signs of wear. This lens protects the laser’s focus lens from metal powder or chips inside the machining envelope. Over time, the protective lens can become dirty and reduce the output of the laser. If it is not replaced at the appropriate interval, it could completely obstruct the laser beam, which could then potentially crack the focus lens.
You can easily set periodic maintenance alerts to check the protective lens after a specified number of uses. You should also regularly measure the power of the laser’s output. If the reading falls in the acceptable range, the protective lens is working properly.
Monitor the chiller unit
To further protect the laser, a chiller unit regulates the temperature of the laser oscillator. You should make sure to keep the unit filled with appropriate levels of distilled water as well as check the unit’s conductivity levels.
Maintain the powder feed lines
Unlike powder bed systems, the powder feed system on the VC-500 AM stores metal powder in individual hoppers, which makes it easy to transition between different materials. All that’s needed to switch metals is to change out the hoppers and purge the powder feed lines with inert gas to clear them of any residual powder. To avoid injury, allow the hopper to cool and depressurize before removing it.
You can also change the metal powder in a hopper. To do so, disassemble the hopper and clean the individual components with alcohol, lint-free wipes and compressed air. Reassemble, fill with the new material and you’re ready to go.
Whether you change out hoppers or change the material in the same hopper, run a purge cycle to clear the powder feed lines of any remaining previous material. A mix of materials will negatively affect additive machining.
When running the same metal powder continuously, keep the container sealed to prevent contamination.
It is important to keep metal powders dry at all times, otherwise the powder may clump together. If this occurs, the powder will not flow evenly from the nozzle, which will decrease part quality. A heat jacket stops humidity from affecting the powder.
Following these regular maintenance procedures will keep your VC-500 AM running at peak performance.