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 »
RAPID + TCT 2018: Metal and Post-Processing
April 26th, 2018 by Jeff Rowe
This past week I had the pleasure of attending RAPID + TCT 2018, a conference and exhibition that showcases 3D printing/additive manufacturing with a myriad new technologies, materials, and processes. The event, put on by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is a highlight of the year for us, and again, we came away overwhelmed (in a very good way) by all that we witnessed.
Much like last year, if there were three words to describe the SME’s RAPID + TCT 3D Printing & Manufacturing Event they would be metal, metal, and metal — machines producing metal parts were everywhere. This year marked the 28th event and seemed more like a mini IMTS than an additive manufacturing show with exhibitors ranging from material suppliers to post processors to traditional machining companies. There were, of course, the industry heavy hitters, but there were also a lot of startup companies exhibiting for the first time that made things really interesting.
Post-processing also got a lot of exposure as companies providing these technologies had more of a presence and recognizing that this important aspect of AM needs to be an integral part of the production process, and not relegated to being an afterthought.
This year’s theme was “3D In 360°,” meaning the industry is starting to come full circle in terms of capabilities and potential, and this theme was clearly evident in the technical sessions and on the exhibit show floor. This year continued a distinct change of industry direction from one-off rapid prototyping of parts to production quantities in the hundreds and even thousands.
Formalloy Launches New Closed-Loop Metal Deposition System
Formalloy, a relative newcomer in additive manufacturing, released the new X-series laser metal deposition system starting at $200K this week at RAPID + TCT.
Featuring options including closed-loop control, variable-wavelength lasers, and Formfeed powder feeders for gradient/bi-metallic structures, the new system is poised to make wave(length)s in the metal additive market. The X-series provides improved quality, better powder efficiency, and the ability to print with the most comprehensive list of metal alloys on the market. Each machine comes standard with the Formax Metal Deposition Head and a customizable build volume with up to 5-axes of motion.
Formalloy’s X-series utilizes real-time scanning technology to monitor build quality and accuracy, and then auto-corrects errors to achieve a part that is free of defects.
The Formax head has proven high powder efficiency and has built in quick-release features for ease of maintenance and component swaps. Formalloy designs all components and systems to utilize open standards for powder supply, allowing the user to provide their own powders if desired. The X-series provides a cost-effective solution for 3D metal part production, repair and cladding to a diverse set of industries.
Formalloy’s additive manufacturing technology utilizes Laser Metal Deposition (LMD) to create metallic parts to near-net shape, increasing the design envelope while providing a more economical solution than producing the same part with conventional methods. Formalloy’s additive manufacturing systems enable reduced machining time and nearly eliminate material waste, particularly with high-value materials such as titanium and Inconel. 3D printing parts with Formalloy’s process can provide design features that can’t be achieved with conventional manufacturing methods, such as internal cooling channels and gradient material or multi-metal parts.
Unlike powder-bed technologies such as direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), Formalloy’s LMD process deposits metal with a coaxially aligned laser/powder nozzle. Our process typically achieves much faster build times, superior material properties and a much larger build envelope compared with powder-bed technologies.
Formalloy’s LMD process can produce parts with dimensions from less than 1-mm to greater than 1-meter with bead widths from 250 microns and up.
I was impressed by the quality of the parts produced with this machine and the fact that it could handle multiple metals.
Additive Manufacturing Post Processing
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.
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, especially for ensuring higher quality production parts..
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 post-printing solutions that significantly reduce labor-intensive tasks – saving customers time and money, increasing throughput, and delivering consistency unattainable with manual processes.
The company provides a comprehensive, patented solution set including hardware, software, and consumables (think of the latter as “better living through chemistry”). PostProcess has gained rapid traction with 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 literally 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.”
So, regardless of whether you’re using additive and/or subtractive manufacturing, post processing is a key aspect to overall quality and success.
Terry Wohlers Keynote at RAPID + TCT 2018: Printing the Future (More about this next week)
Editor’s Note: In the next few weeks I will provide much more detail on the RAPID + TCT event I attended this week because there was so much presented. All in all, though, a great week!
Some of the companies I will discuss in coming weeks include: