The powder used in laser cladding is normally of a metallic nature, and is injected into the system by either coaxial or lateral nozzles. The interaction of the metallic powder stream and the laser causes melting to occur, and is known as the melt pool. This is deposited onto a substrate; moving the substrate allows the melt pool to solidify and thus produces a track of solid metal. This is the most common technique, however some processes involve moving the laser/nozzle assembly over a stationary substrate to produce solidified tracks. The motion of the substrate is guided by a CAD system which interpolates solid objects into a set of tracks, thus producing the desired part at the end of the trajectory.
A great deal of research is now being concentrated on developing automatic laser cladding machines. Many of the process parameters must be manually set, such as laser power, laser focal point, substrate velocity, powder injection rate, etc., and thus require the attention of a specialized technician to ensure proper results. However, many groups are focusing their attention on developing sensors to measure the process online. Such sensors monitor the clad's geometry (height and width of deposited track), metallurgical properties (such as the rate of solidification, and hence the final microstructure), and temperature information of both the immediate melt pool and its surrounding areas. With such sensors, control strategies are being designed such that constant observation from a technician is no longer required to produce a final product. Further research has been directed to forward processing where system parameters are developed around specific metallurgical properties for user defined applications (such as microstructure, internal stresses, dilution zone gradients, and clad contact angle).