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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Whether Additive Or Subtractive, Post Processing Remains Key For Manufacturing

May 4th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

Clean up after anything is not usually an especially enjoyable endeavor, even where subtractive or additive manufacturing processes are concerned. This is where post processing comes in.

The Problem with CAD In Subtractive Manufacturing

To cut parts using a CNC cutting machine, it has to be programmed with the path of the desired shape or nest of shapes. Most parts are designed with a CAD program where they are saved in a CAD drawing format, such as DWG, STEP, or several others.

But you can’t just take the CAD file and send it to a cutting machine. It has to be interpreted first, so the CNC on the cutting machine can understand it. The problem with CAD file formats is that:

  • They usually contain a lot of information that the CNC cutting machine doesn’t need or would find confusing, such as title blocks, Bills Of Material, dimension lines, borders, welding symbols, etc.
  • They usually have multiple layers, some of which are useful to the CNC and some of which the CNC needs to ignore.
  • They sometimes have many parts in one file, some of which might need to be cut on the CNC cutter, and some might need to be machined, cast, or sent to an EDM.
  • They don’t have all of the information needed by a CNC machine. Machines need to be told when to turn a process on and off, how to lead-in and lead-out from a part, etc. All of this information is referred to as the process technology.

Post Processing For Subtractive Machining

Somehow the shape of the part needs to be extracted from all of the other information in the CAD file, and then the desired process technology applied to it. That is what a post processor does, it processes the CAD file after (post) the design phase. Post processing software takes a CAD file, strips it down to basic geometry and converts the file from CAD to CNC language.

A post processor should:

  • Extract the circles, lines and arcs from the CAD file and converts them to lines of code that the CNC can understand, often referred to as “M- and G-Code”.
  • Identify which contours are internal cut-outs (IDs), and which are outside cuts (ODs).
  • Put the lines of G-Code (Geometry code) in the correct order so that ID cuts and OD cuts are done in the correct direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise), which is necessary for plasma cutting.
  • Generate new lines of G-Code to describe the necessary lead-in and lead-out motion, and put those in the appropriate place along each contour.
  • Generate new lines of G-Code to perform all necessary tool movement in between cut lines, such as the rapid move from index point to the first ID cut, and moving from the ID cut to the OD cut.
  • Add all of the necessary M-Codes (Miscellaneous codes) at just the right point in the sequence to turn various machine and process functions on and off at just the right times.

Additive Manufacturing Post Processing

Traditional subtractive manufacturing is hardly alone when it comes to the need for post processing – it’s often just as critical for additive manufacturing, as well.

To address this issue, PostProcess Technologies has emerged as the company that solves the challenge of making 3D printed parts “customer ready” at high volume through post processing.  3D printed parts generally come off the printer with structural support material (required to print unique geometries) and an inconsistent surface.  Support removal and surface finishing are the two most common post-printing steps and are mostly completed with time-intensive manual processes, which limit the volume of parts that can be produced.  Traditional manual post-printing often results in damaged and/or inconsistent parts.

PostProcess solves this with automated and intelligent post-printing solutions that significantly reduce labor-intensive tasks – saving customers time and money, increasing throughput, and delivering consistency unattainable with a manual process. The company provides a comprehensive, patented solution set including hardware, software and consumables. PostProcess has gained rapid traction with blue-chip customers across the automotive, aerospace, defense, life sciences and consumer products industries, among others.

Additive Manufacturing Post Processing

The company’s founder and CTO, Daniel J. Hutchinson, started the company by addressing a growing challenge to the additive manufacturing industry, namely, automated post processing. For the most part, while the industry has focused on the first two steps of additive manufacturing – design and build – the third step, post processing was largely overlooked. Hutchinson realized that in more than 95% of cases, the printed parts have some type of support structure that needs to be removed, and currently more than 60% of these parts need finishing. To develop a solution, he studied the additive manufacturing process from end-to-end and saw the opportunity to transform labor-intensive manual post processing through new automated technologies.

PostProcess Technologies is the only provider of automated post-processing solutions for 3D printed parts with its proprietary software along with its patent-pending machines and consumables. PostProcess Technologies removes the bottleneck in the third step of 3D printing – post-processing.

“We continue to hear from our customers that the post-processing of parts is becoming the bottleneck in their additive operation as prototype volumes grow into the thousands per year and production volumes grow into the thousands per day.  Our technology delivers unparalleled consistency, while showing a return on investment that is often less than six months,” said Jeff Mize, Chief Executive Officer, PostProcess Technologies.

“Additive manufacturing is now being implemented in every imaginable market across a wide variety of applications.   We were intrigued by the complex challenge of solving the finishing requirements across all 3D printer technologies and materials,” said Hutchinson. “We are able to deliver unmatched results for our current and future customers through precision energy management, which we achieve through a combination of proprietary software, chemistry and hardware.”

PostProcess Technologies Finalizes $4 Million Seed Round

This week, PostProcess Technologies announced a $4 million seed round, including a $1 million investment from New York Ventures, the venture capital investment arm of Empire State Development. The PostProcess seed round experienced significant, organic oversubscription and has attracted several investors, including Rand Capital, Richmond Capital Partners, and prominent angel investors from around the globe. PostProcess Technologies will use the funding to further accelerate technology developments (including proprietary software, hardware, and chemistry), as well as expand its global customer experience team to meet an exponential growth in demand.

So, regardless of whether you’re using additive or subtractive manufacturing, post processing is a key aspect to the overall process.

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