The Additive Manufacturing Cellular Solids Research Landscape

I am writing this post after visiting the 27th SFF Symposium, a 3-day Additive Manufacturing (AM) conference held annually at the University of Texas at Austin. The SFF Symposium stands apart from other 3D printing conferences held in the US (such as AMUG, RAPID and Inside3D) in the fact that about 90% of the attendees and presenters are from academia. This year had 339 talks in 8 concurrent tracks and 54 posters, with an estimated 470 attendees from 20 countries – an overall 50% increase over the past year.

As one would expect from a predominantly academic conference, the talks were deeper in their content and tracks were more specialized. The track I presented in (Lattice Structures) had a total of 15 talks – 300 minutes of lattice talk, which pretty much made the conference for me!

In this post, I wish to summarize the research landscape in AM cellular solids at a high level: this classification dawned on me as I was listening to the talks over two days and taking in all the different work going on across several universities. My attempt in this post is to wrap my arms around the big picture and show how all these elements are needed to make cellular solids a routine design feature in production AM parts.

Classification of Cellular Solids

First, I feel the need to clarify a technicality that bothered me a wee bit at the conference: I prefer the term “cellular solids” to “lattices” since it is more inclusive of honeycomb and all foam-like structures, following Gibson and Ashby’s 1997 seminal text of the same name. Lattices are generally associated with “open-cell foam” type structures only – but there is a lot of room for honeycomb structures and close-cell foams, each having different advantages and behaviors, which get excluded when we use the term “lattice”.

CellularSolids
Figure 1. Classification of Cellular Solids [Gibson & Ashby, 1997]

The AM Cellular Solids Research Landscape

The 15 papers at the symposium, and indeed all my prior literature reviews and conference visits, suggested to me that all of the work in this space falls into one or more of four categories shown in Figure 2. For each of the four categories (design, analysis, manufacturing & implementation), I have listed below the current list of capabilities (not comprehensive), many of which were discussed in the talks at SFF. Further down I list the current challenges from my point of view, based on what I have learned studying this area over the past year.

AMcellular
Figure 2. AM Cellular Solid Research Landscape

Over the coming weeks I plan to publish a post with more detail on each of the four areas above, summarizing the commercial and academic research that is ongoing (to the best of my knowledge) in each area. For now, I provide below a brief elaboration of each area and highlight some important research questions.

1. Representation (Design)

This deals with how we incorporate cellular structures into our designs for all downstream activities. This involves two aspects: the selection of the specific cellular design (honeycomb or octet truss, for example) and its implementation in the CAD framework. For the former, a key question is: what is the optimum unit cell to select relative to performance requirements, manufacturability and other constraints? The second set of challenges arises from the CAD implementation: how does one allow for rapid iteration with minimal computational expense, how do cellular structures cover the space and merge with the external skin geometry seamlessly?

2. Optimization (Analysis)

Having tools to incorporate cellular designs is not enough – the next question is how to arrange these structures for optimum performance relative to specified requirements? The two most significant challenges in this area are performing the analysis at reasonable computational expense and the development of material models that accurately represent behavior at the cellular structure level, which may be significantly different from the bulk.

3. Realization (Manufacturing)

Manufacturing cellular structures is non-trivial, primarily due to the small size of the connecting members (struts, walls). The dimensions required are often in the order of a few hundred microns and lower, which tends to push the capabilities of the AM equipment under consideration. Additionally, in most cases, the cellular structure needs to be self-supporting and specifically for powder bed fusion, must allow for removal of trapped powder after completion of the build. One way to address this is to develop a map that identifies acceptable sizes of both the connecting members and the pores they enclose. For this, we need robust ways of monitoring quality of AM cellular solids by using in-situ and Non-Destructive techniques to guard against voids and other defects.

4. Application (Implementation)

Cellular solids have a range of potential applications. The well established ones include increasing stiffness-to-weight ratios, energy absorption and thermal performance. More recent applications include improving bone integration for implants and modulating stiffness to match biological distributions of material (biomimicry), as well as a host of ideas involving meta-materials. The key questions here include how do we ensure long term reliability of cellular structures in their use condition? How do we accurately identify and validate these conditions? How do we monitor quality in the field? And how do we ensure the entire life cycle of the product is cost-effective?

So What?

I wrote this post for two reasons: I love to classify information and couldn’t help myself after 5 hours of hearing and thinking about this area. But secondly, I hope it helps give all of us working in this space context to engage and communicate more seamlessly and see how our own work fits in the bigger picture.

A lot of us have a singular passion for the overlapping zone of AM and cellular solids and I can imagine in a few years we may well have a conference, an online journal or a forum of some sort just dedicated to this field – in fact, I’d love to assess interest in such an effort or an equivalent collaborative exercise. If this idea resonates with you, please connect with me on LinkedIn and drop me a note, or send us an email (info@padtinc.com) and cite this blog post so it finds its way to me.

On the Biocompatibility of PolyJet MED610

Is PolyJet MED610 truly biocompatible? And what does that mean anyway?

IMG_0144
Figure 1. Our PolyJet Eden 260V dedicated to running MED610

A couple of months ago, our product development team contacted me to see if I could 3D print them a small bio-compatible masking device that was needed for temporary attachment to an invasive device prior to insertion for surgery. That led me to investigate all the different bio-compatible materials we did have access to at PADT on our FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and PolyJet machines. Given the tiny size and high detail required in the part, I decided to opt for PolyJet, which does offer the MED610 material that is claimed to be biocompatible. As it so happens, we have an Objet Eden 260V PolyJet machine that has been dedicated to running MED610 exclusively since it’s installation a year ago.

We printed the mask, followed all the post-processing instructions per supplier recommendations (more on that later) and delivered the parts for further testing. And that is when I asked myself the questions at the top of this post.

I set off on a quest to see what I could find. My first stop was the RAPID conference in (May 2016), where the supplier (Stratasys Inc.) had a well-staffed booth – but no one there knew much about MED610 apart from the fact that some orthodontists were using it. I did pick up one interesting insight: one of the engineers there hypothesized that MED610 was not very popular because it was cost-prohibitive since its proper use required machine dedication. I then went to the Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (a service bureau owned by Stratasys) booth, but it turned out they don’t even offer MED610 as a material option for service jobs – presumably because of the low demand for this material, consistent with our own observations.

So I took a step back and began searching for all I could find in the public domain on MED610 – and while it wasn’t much, here is the summary of my findings that I hope help anyone interested in this. I categorize it in three sources of information: claims made by the supplier, published work on in vitro studies and finally, some in vivo animal trials. But first, we must ask…

What does it mean for a Material to be Biocompatible?

A definition by Williams (The Williams Dictionary of Biomaterials, 1999) is in order: “Biocompatibility is the ability of a material to perform with an appropriate host response in a specific application.” So if PolyJet MED610 is to be called biocompatible, we must ask – what application do we have in mind? Fortunately, the supplier has a recommendation.

IMG_0152
Figure 2. PolyJet MED610 printed “Hydrogel Hand Bone Scaffolds” [Design Attribution: dotmatrix, Published on December 11, 2015, www.thingiverse.com/thing:1193425]

Supplier Claims

MED610 was launched by Objet in 2011 (Objet was acquired by Stratasys in 2012) as a biocompatible material, ideal for “applications requiring prolonged skin contact of more than 30 days and short-term mucosal-membrane contact of up to 24 hours“. Stratasys claims that parts printed according to Objet MED610 Use and Maintenance Terms were evaluated for biocompatibility in accordance with standard “DIN EN ISO 10993-1: 2009, Biological Evaluation of Medical Devices-Part 1: Evaluation and testing within a risk management process. This addresses cytotoxicity, genotoxicity, delayed hypersensitivity, and USP plastic Class VI, which includes the test for irritation, acute systemic toxicity and implantation”. Unfortunately, the actual data from the biocompatibility study conducted by Objet have not been made publicly available.

It is important to remember that Stratasys publishes a “Use and Maintenance Terms” document that details the steps needed not just to clean the part after printing, but also on the proper setup of the machine for ensuring best chances of meeting biocompatibility requirements. These are published online at this link and include a 3 hour soak in a 1-percent NaOH solution, a 30 min soak in IPA and multiple water jet rinses, among other steps. In other words, the claimed biocompatibility of MED610 is only valid if these instructions are followed.  These steps are primarily driven by the need to completely remove supports and any support-residue, but it is not clear if this is needed if a part can be printed without supports. Given such strong process dependencies, it is only to be expected that Stratasys provide a disclaimer at the end of the document clarifying that the users of their machines are responsible for independently validating biocompatibility of any device they make with MED610.

The next question is: have there been any relevant published, independent studies that have used MED610? In my search, I could only find two instances, which I discuss below.

Primary Human Cells Response (In Vitro)

In a recent (January 2016) study published in the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering, Schmelzer et al. studied the response of primary human cells to four 3D printed materials in vitro: ABS, PC, PLA and MED610 – the only such study I could find. All samples instead went through a 100% ethanol brief rinse and were washed 5 times with de-mineralized water – this seems like a less stringent process than what the supplier recommends (3 hour 1-percent NaOH solution soak, 30 minutes IPA soak and 10 times waterjet blasting) but was designed to be identical across all the materials tested.

There were some very interesting findings:

  • Different cells had different responses:
    • MED610 had the most negative impact on cell viability for keratinocytes (epidermal cells that produce keratin) – and the only material that showed statistically significant difference from the control.
    • For bone marrow mesenchymal (stem) cells, a different effect was observed: direct culture on ABS and PC showed significant growth (7X compared to control) but MED610 and PLA showed no significant effect
  • Surface Roughness influences cell attachment and proliferation:
    • In agreement with other work, the authors showed that while rougher surfaces promote initial cell attachment, subsequent cell proliferation and overall cell numbers are higher on smoother surfaces. The MED610 samples had rougher surfaces than the FDM samples (possibly due to the use of the “matte” finish option) and could be one of the contributors to the observed negative effects on cell viability, along with the leached contents from the specimen.

Glaucoma Drainage Device (In Vivo, Rabbit studies)

A group of Australian researchers published a 2015 paper where they designed and used PolyJet MED610 to manufacture a Glaucoma Drainage Device (GDD). They selected PolyJet because of its ability to resolve very fine details that they needed for the device. Importantly, the purpose of this study was to assess the effect of different design parameters on the effectiveness of the device (relieving intraocular pressure). The device was implanted into rabbit eyeballs where it remained for up to 4 weeks.

The devices were printed on a Connex 350 PolyJet machine, after which the supports were removed from the devices with a water jet and “were repeatedly washed and inspected for consistency and integrity.” Tubes were attached with Silicone adhesive and the entire assembly was then “washed and sterilized with a hospital-grade hydrogen peroxide system before use”. The researchers did not examine the cellular and extracellular reactions in great detail, but did conclude that the reactions were similar between the MED610 device and the more standard polypropylene injection-molded device.

A short video recorded by some of the researchers as part of a Bioprinting course also provides some details into the 3D printing aspects of the work done.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, the question I posed at the start of this post (Is PolyJet MED610 truly biocompatible?) is too simplistic. A process and a material together are not sufficient – there are procedures that need to be defined and controlled and further and more importantly, biocompatibility itself has to be viewed in the context of the application and the specific toxicity and interaction demands of that application. And that brings us to our key takeaways:

  • MED610 is only recommended at best for applications requiring prolonged skin contact of more than 30 days and short-term mucosal-membrane contact of up to 24 hours and there is no data to dispute the suppliers claim that it is biocompatible in this context once all recommended procedures are implemented
  • The work done by Australian researchers in using PolyJet MED610 for devoloping their Glaucoma Drainage Device in animal trials is perhaps the best example of how  this material and the technology can be pushed further for evaluating designs and hypothesis in vivo when really fine features are needed. Stratasys’s FDM PC-ISO or ABS M30i materials, or other FDM extrusion capable materials like PLA, PCL and PLGA may be better options when the resolution allows – but this is a topic for a follow-on blog post.
  • More in vitro work needs to be done to extend the work done by Schmelzer et al., which suggests that MED610 potentially has leachables that do impact cell viability negatively. Specifically, effects of surface finish (“matte” vs “gloss”) and sterilization on cell viability is a worthwhile follow-on step. In the interim, MED610 is expected to perform well for mucosal membrane contact under 24 hours (and why this is a great technology for dental guides and other temporary in-mouth placement).

If you have any thoughts on this matter or would like to collaborate with us and take advantage of our access to a PolyJet printer that is dedicated to MED610 or other bio-compatible FDM materials, as well as our extensive post-processing and design & analysis facilities, please connect with me on LinkedIn or send us a note at info@padtinc.com and cite this blog post.

Thanks for reading!

References

  1. Stratasys Bio-compatible Materials Page: http://www.stratasys.com/materials/polyjet/bio-compatible
  2. PolyJet MED610 Data Sheets: http://www.stratasys.com/materials/material-safety-data-sheets/polyjet/dental-and-bio-compatible-materials
  3. Schmelzer, E., Over, P., Gridelli, B., & Gerlach, J. (2016). Response of Primary Human Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stromal Cells and Dermal Keratinocytes to Thermal Printer Materials In Vitro. Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering, 36, 153-167.
  4. Ross C, Pandav S, Li Y, et al. Determination of Bleb Capsule Porosity With an Experimental Glaucoma Drainage Device and Measurement System. JAMA Ophthalmol.2015;133(5):549-554. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.30.
  5. Glaucoma case study in online course on Bioprinting, University of Woolongong, Future Learn, https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/bioprinting/3/steps/87168

Technology Trends in Fused Deposition Modeling

A few months ago, I did a post on the Technology Trends in Laser-based Metal Additive Manufacturing where I identified 5 key directions that technology was moving in. In this post, I want to do the same, but for a different technology that we also use on a regular basis at PADT: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM).

1. New Materials with Improved Properties

Many companies have released and are continuously developing composite materials for FDM. Most involve carbon fibers and are discussed in this review. Arevo Labs and Mark Forged are two of many companies that offer composite materials for higher performance, the table below lists their current offerings (CF = Carbon Fiber, CNT = Carbon Nano Tubes). Virtual Foundry are also working on developing a metal rich filament (with about 89% metal, 11% binder polymer), which they claim can be used to make mostly-metal parts for non-functional purposes using existing FDM printers and a heat treatment to vaporize the binder. In short, while ABS and PLA dominate the market, there is a wide range of materials commercially available and this list is growing each year.

Company Composition
Arevo Labs CF, CNT in PAEK
CF in PEEK
Fiberglass in PARA
Mark Forged Micro-CF in Nylon
CF
Fiberglass
Fiberglass (High Strength High Temperature)
Kevlar

2. Improved Properties through Process Enhancements

Even with newer materials, a fundamental problem in FDM is the anisotropy of the parts and the fact that the build direction introduces weak interfaces. However, there are several efforts underway to improve the mechanical properties of FDM parts and this is an exciting space to follow with many approaches to this being taken. Some of these involve explicitly improving the interfacial strength: one of the ways this can be achieved is by pre-heating the base layer (as being investigated by Prof. Keng Hsu at the Arizona State University using lasers and presented at the RAPID 2016 conference). Another approach is being developed by a company called Essentium who combine microwave heating and CNT coated filaments as shown in the video below.

Taking a very different approach, Arevo labs has developed a 6-axis robotic FDM process that allows for conformal deposition of carbon fiber composites and uses an FEA solver to generate optimized toolpaths for improved properties.

3. Faster & Bigger

A lot of press has centered around FDM printers that make bigger parts and at higher deposition rates: one article discusses 4 of these companies that showcased their technologies at an Amsterdam trade show. Among the companies that showcased their technologies at RAPID was 3D Platform, that showed a $27,000 3D printer for FDM with a 1m x 1m x 0.5m printing platform. Some of the key questions for large form factor printers is if and how they deal with geometries needing supports and enabling higher temperature materials. Also, while FDM is well suited among the additive technologies for high throughput, large size prints, it does have competition in this space: Massivit is one company that in the video below shows the printing of a structure 5.6 feet tall in a mere 5 hours using what they call “Gel Dispensed Printing” that reduces the need for supports.

 4. Bioprinting Applications

Micro-extrusion through syringes or specialized nozzles is one of the key ways bioprinting systems operate – but this is technically not “fused” deposition in that it may not involve thermal modification of the material during deposition. However, FDM technology is being used for making scaffolds for bio-printing with synthetic, biodegradable or bio-compatible polymers such as PCL and PLGA. The idea is these scaffolds then form the structure for seeding cells (or in some cases the cells are bioprinted as well onto the scaffold). This technology is growing fast and something we are also investigating at PADT – watch this space for more updates.

5. Material Modeling Improvements

Modeling FDM is an important part of being able to use simulation/analysis to design better processes and parts for functional use. This may not get a lot of press compared to the items above, but is a particular interest of mine and I believe is a critical piece of the puzzle going to true part production with FDM. I have written a few blog posts on the challenges, approaches and a micromechanics view of FDM printed structures and materials. The idea behind all of these is to represent FDM structures mathematically with valid and accurate models so that their behavior can be predicted and designs truly optimized. This space is also growing fast, the most recent paper I have come across in this space is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that was published May 12, 2016.

Conclusion

Judging by media hype, metal 3D printing and 3D bioprinting are currently dominating the media spotlight – and for good reasons. But FDM has many things going for it: low cost of entry and manufacturing, user-friendliness and high market penetration. And the technology growth has no sign of abating: the most recent, 2016 Wohlers report assesses that there are over 300 manufacturers of FDM printers, though rumor on the street has it that there are over a thousand manufacturers coming up – in China alone. And as the 5 trends above show, FDM has a lot more to offer the world beyond being just the most rapidly scaling technology – and there are people working worldwide on these opportunities. When a process is as simple and elegant as extruding material from a hot nozzle, usable innovations will naturally follow.

inBusiness: Arizona Additive Manufacturing Committee

New Dimension
Committee to advocate manufacturing advancement

The inBusiness magazine published an article on the newly formed Arizona Additive Manufacturing Committee that we co-chair with our friends at Titan Industries under the aegis of the Arizona Technology Council. Link to the article is here:
http://inbusinessmag.com/partner-section/new-dimension#.V36QrvkrKUk

The Committee aims to meet once a month, our second meeting occurs Monday, July 11 2016 at the ASU Polytechnic Campus and is open to anyone in Arizona that works in Additive Manufacturing and has an interest in promoting its growth statewide through collaboration. For more info, connect with me on LinkedIn or send a note to info@padtinc.com and cite this blog post.

inbusiness

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Properties: A Micromechanics Perspective

Have you ever looked at the mechanical properties in an FDM material datasheet (one example shown below for Stratasys ULTEM-9085) and wondered why properties were prescribed in the non-traditional manner of XZ and ZX orientation? You may also have wondered, as I did, whatever happened to the XY orientation and why its values were not reported? The short (and unfortunate) answer is you may as well ignore the numbers in the datasheet. The longer answer follows in this blog post.

FDM_01

Mesostructure has a First Order Effect on FDM Properties

In the context of FDM, mesostructure is the term used to describe structural detail at the level of individual filaments. And as we show below, it is the most dominant effect in properties.

Consider this simple experiment we did a few months ago: we re-created the geometry used in the tensile test specimens reported in the datasheets and printed them on our Fortus 400mc 3D printer with ULTEM-9085. While we kept layer thickness identical throughout the experiment (0.010″), we modified the number of contours: from the default 1-contour to 10-contours, in 4 steps shown in the curves below. We used a 0.020″ value for both contour and raster widths. Each of these samples was tested mechanically on an INSTRON 8801 under tension at a displacement rate of 5mm/min.

As the figure below shows, the identical geometry had significantly different load-displacement response – as the number of contours grew, the sample grew stiffer. The calculated modulii were in the range of 180-240 kpsi. These values are lower than those reported in datasheets, but closer to published values in work done by Bagsik et al (211-303 kpsi); datasheets do not specify the meso-structure used to construct the part (number of contours, contour and raster widths etc.). Further, it is possible to modify process parameters to optimize for a certain outcome: for example, as suggested by the graph below, an all-contour design is likely to have the highest stiffness when loaded in tension.

FDM-02

Can we Borrow Ideas from Micromechanics Theory?

The above result is not surprising – the more interesting question is, could we have predicted it? While this is not a composite material, I wondered if I could, in my model, separate the contours that run along the boundary from the raster, and identify each as it’s own “material” with unique properties (Er and Ec). Doing this allows us to apply the Rule of Mixtures and derive an effective property. For the figure below, the effective modulus Eeff becomes:

Eeff = f.Ec + (1-f).Er

where  represents the cross-sectional area fraction of the contours.

FDM-3

With four data points in the curve above, I was able to use two of those data points to solve the above equation simultaneously and derive Er and Ec as follows:

Er = 182596 psi
Ec = 305776 psi

Now the question became: how predictive are these values of experimentally observed stiffness for other combinations of raster and contours? In a preliminary evaluation for two other cases, the results look promising.

FDM-4

So What About the Orientation in Datasheets?

Below is a typical image showing the different orientations data are typically attributed to. From our micromechanics argument above, the orientation is not the correct way to look at this data. The more pertinent question is: what is the mesostructure of the load-bearing cross-section? And the answer to the question I posed at the start, as to why the XY values are not typically reported, is apparent if you look at the image below closely and imagine the XZ and XY samples being tested under tension. You will see that from the perspective of the load-bearing cross-section, XY and XZ effectively have the similar (not the same) mesostructure at the load-bearing cross-sectional area, but with a different distribution of contours and rasters – these are NOT different orientations in the conventional X-Y-Z sense that we as users of 3D printers are familiar with.

fdm-5

Conclusion

The point of this preliminary work is not to propose a new way to model FDM structures using the Rule of Mixtures, but to emphasize the significance of the role of the mesostructure on mechanical properties. FDM mesostructure determines properties, and is not just an annoying second order effect. While property numbers from datasheets may serve as useful insights for qualitative, comparative purposes, the numbers are not extendable beyond the specific process conditions and geometry used in the testing. As such, any attempts to model FDM structure that do not account for the mesostructure are not valid, and unlikely to be accurate. To be fair to the creators of FDM datasheets, it is worth noting that the disclaimers at the bottom of these datasheets typically do inform the user that these numbers “should not be used for design specifications or quality control purposes.”

If you would like to learn more and discuss this, and other ideas in the modeling of FDM, tune in to my webinar on June 28, 2016 at 11am Eastern using the link here, or read more of my posts on this subject below. If you are reading this post after that date, drop us a line at info@padtinc.com and cite this post, or connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

Thanks for reading!

~

Two related posts:

The Additive Manufacturing Software Conundrum

Why are there so many different software solutions in Additive Manufacturing and which ones do I really need?

This was a question I was asked at lunch during the recently concluded RAPID 3D printing conference by a manager at an aerospace company. I gave her my thoughts as I was stuffing down my very average panini, but the question lingered on long after the conference was over – several weeks later, I decided to expand on my response in this blog post.

There are over 25 software solutions available and being used for different aspects of Additive Manufacturing (AM). To answer the question above, I found it best to classify these solutions into four main categories based on their purpose, and allow sub-categories to emerge as appropriate. This classification is shown in Figure 1 below – and each of the 7 sub-categories are discussed in more detail in this post.

Figure 1. Seven sub-categories of software that are applicable to Additive Manufacturing, sorted by the need into four main categories

Basic Requirements

1. Design Modeler

You need this if you intend to create or modify designs

Most designs are created in CAD software such as SOLIDWorks, CATIA and SpaceClaim (now ANSYS SpaceClaim).  These have been in use long before the more recent rise in interest in AM and most companies have access to some CAD software internally already. Wikipedia has a comparison of different CAD software that is a good starting point to get a sense of the wide range of CAD solutions out there.

2. Build Preparation

You need this if you plan on using any AM technology yourself (as opposed to sending your designs outside for manufacturing)

Once you have a CAD file, you need to ensure you get the best print possible with the printer you have available. Most equipment suppliers will provide associated software with their machines that enable this. Stand-alone software packages do exist, such as the one developed by Materialise called Magics, which is a preferred solution for Stereolithography (SLA) and metal powder bed fusion in particular – some of the features of Magics are shown in the video below.

Scanning & File Transfer

3. Geometry Repair

You need this if you deal with low-quality geometries – either from scans or since you work with customers with poor CAD generation capabilities

Geomagic Design X is arguably the industry’s most comprehensive reverse engineering software which combines history-based CAD with 3D scan data processing so you can create feature-based, editable solid models compatible with your existing CAD software. If you are using ANSYS, their SpaceClaim has a powerful repair solution as well, as demonstrated in the video below.

Improving Performance Through Analysis

4. Topology Optimization

You need this if you stand to benefit from designing towards a specific objective like reducing mass, increasing stiffness etc. such as the control-arm shown in Figure 2

Topology optimization applied to the design of an automobile upper control-arm done with GENESIS Topology for ANSYS Mechanical (GTAM) from Vanderplaats Research & Development and ANSYS SpaceClaim
Figure 2. Topology optimization applied to the design of an automobile upper control-arm done with GENESIS Topology for ANSYS Mechanical (GTAM) from Vanderplaats Research & Development and ANSYS SpaceClaim

Of all the ways design freedom can be meaningfully exploited, topology optimization is arguably the most promising. The ability to now bring analysis up-front in the design cycle and design towards a certain objective (such as maximizing stiffness-to-weight) is compelling, particularly for high performance, material usage sensitive applications like aerospace. The most visible commercial solutions in the AM space come from Altair: with their Optistruct solution (for advanced users) and SolidThinking Inspire (which is a more user-friendly solution that uses Altair’s solver). ANSYS and Autodesk 360 Inventor also offer optimization solutions. A complete list, including freeware, can be availed of at this link.

5. Lattice Generation

You need this if you wish to take advantage of cellular/lattice structure properties for applications like such as lightweight structural panels, energy absorption devices, thermal insulation as well as medical applications like porous implants with optimum bone integration and stiffness and scaffolds for tissue engineering.

Broadly speaking, there are 3 different approaches that have been taken to lattice design software:

I will cover the differences between these approaches in detail in a future blog post. A general guideline is that the generative design approach taken by Autodesk’s Within is well suited to medical applications, while Lattice generation through topology optimization seems to be a sensible next step for those that are already performing topology optimization, as is the case with most aerospace companies pursuing AM technology. The infill/conformal approach is limiting in that it does not enable optimization of lattice structures in response to an objective function and typically involves a-priori definition of a lattice density and type which cannot then be modified locally. This is a fast evolving field – between new software and updates to existing ones, there is a new release on an almost quarterly, if not monthly basis – some recent examples are nTopology and the open source IntraLattice.

Below is a short video demo of Autodesk’s Within:

6. Analysis

You need this if you do either topology optimization or lattice design, or need it for part performance simulation

Basic mechanical FE analysis solvers are integrated into most topology optimization and lattice generation software. For topology optimization, the digitally represented part at the end of the optimization typically has jarring surfaces that are smoothed and then need to be reanalyzed to ensure that the design changes have not shifted the part’s performance outside the required window. Beyond topology optimization & lattice design, analysis has a major role to play in simulating performance – this is also true for those seeking to compare performance between traditionally manufactured and 3D printed parts. The key challenge is the availability of valid constitutive and failure material models for AM, which needs to be sourced through independent testing, from the Senvol database or from publications.

Process Development

7. Process Simulation

You need this if you would like to simulate the actual process to allow for improved part and process parameter selection, or to assess how changes in parameters influence part behavior

The real benefit for process simulation has been seen for metal AM. In this space, there are broadly speaking two approaches: simulating at the level of the part, or at the level of the powder.

  • Part Level Simulation: This involves either the use of stand-alone AM-specific solutions like 3DSIM and Pan Computing (acquired by Autodesk in March 2016), or the use of commercially available FE software such as ANSYS & ABAQUS. The focus of these efforts is on intelligent support design, accounting for residual stresses and part distortion, and simulating thermal gradients in the part during the process. ANSYS recently announced a new effort with the University of Pittsburgh in this regard.
  • Powder Level Simulation: R&D efforts in this space are led by Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL) and the focus here is on fundamental understanding to explain observed defects and also to enable process optimization to accelerate new materials and process research

Part level simulation is of great interest for companies seeking to go down a production route with metal AM. In particular there is a need to predict part distortion and correct for it in the design – this distortion can be unacceptable in many geometries – one such example is shown in the Pan Computing (now Autodesk) video below.

A Note on Convergence

Some companies have ownership of more than one aspect of the 7 categories represented above, and are seeking to converge them either through enabling smooth handshakes or truly integrate them into one platform. In fact, Stratasys announced their GrabCAD solution at the RAPID conference, which aims to do some of this (minus the analysis aspects, and only limited to their printers at the moment – all of which are for polymers only). Companies like Autodesk, Dassault Systemes and ANSYS have many elements of the 7 software solutions listed above and while it is not clear what level of convergence they have in mind, all have recognized the potential for a solution that can address the AM design community’s needs. Autodesk for example, has in the past 2 years acquired Within (for lattice generation), netfabb (for build preparation) and Pan Computing (for simulation), to go with their existing design suite.

Conclusion: So what do I need again?

What you need depends primarily on what you are using AM technologies for. I recommend the following approach:

  • Identify which of the 4 main categories apply to you
  • Enumerate existing capabilities: This is a simple task of listing the software you have access to already that have capabilities described in the sub-categories
  • Assess gaps in software relative to meeting requirements
  • Develop an efficient road-map to get there: be aware that some software only make sense (or are available) for certain processes

In the end, one of the things AM enables is design freedom, and to quote the novelist Toni Morrison: Freedom is not having no responsibilities; it is choosing the ones you want.”  AT PADT, we work with design and analysis software as well as AM machines on a daily basis and would love to discuss choosing the appropriate software solutions for your needs in greater detail. Send us a note at info@padtinc.com and cite this blog post, or contact me directly on LinkedIn. .

Thank you for reading!

Unexpected Joys at Rapid 2016

While much has been (justifiably) written about HP and XJet releasing new, potentially game-changing products at RAPID 2016, I wanted to write this post about some of the smaller, unexpected joys that I discovered. If I sound overly enthusiastic about the people and companies behind them, it is likely due to the fact that I wrote this on the flight back, staring out at the clouds and reflecting on what had been a wonderful trip: I own no locks, stocks or barrels in any of these companies.

1. Essentium Materials – Carbon Nanotubes and Microwaves to improve FDM mechanical properties
Over the past year, I have studied, written and made presentations about the challenges of developing models for describing Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) given their complex and part-specific meso-structure. And while I worked on developing analytical and numerical techniques for extracting the best performance from parts in the presence of significant anisotropy, the team at Essentium has developed a process to coat FDM filaments with Carbon nanotubes and extrude them in the presence of microwave radiation. In the limited data they showed for test specimens constructed of unidirectional tool-paths, they demonstrated significant reduction in anisotropy and increase in strength for PLA. What I liked most about their work is how they are developing  this solution on a foundation of understanding the contributions of both the meso-structure and inter-filament strength to overall part performance. Essentium was awarded the “RAPID Innovations award”, first among the 27 exhibitors that competed and are, in my opinion, addressing an important problem that is holding back greater expansion of FDM as a process in the production space.
Website: http://essentiummaterials.com/

2. Hyrel 3D – Maker meets Researcher meets The-Kid-in-All-of-Us
I only heard of Hyrel 3D a few days prior to RAPID, but neglected to verify if they were exhibiting at RAPID and was pleasantly surprised to see them there. Consider the options this 3D printer has that you would be hard pressed to find in several 3D printers combined: variable extrusion head temperatures (room temp to 450 C), sterile head options for biological materials, a 6W laser (yes, a laser), spindle tools, quad head dispensing with individual flow control and UV crosslinking options. Read that again slowly. This is true multiple degree-of-freedom material manipulation. What makes their products even more compelling is the direct involvement of the team and the community they are building up over time, particularly in academia, across the world, and the passion with which they engage their technology and its users.
Website: http://www.hyrel3d.com/

3. Technic-Print: New Chemistry for Improved FDM Support Removal
If you manufacture FDM parts with soluble supports, keep reading. A chemist at Technic Inc. has developed a new solution that is claimed to be 400% faster than the current Sodium-Hydroxide solution we use to dissolve parts. Additionally, the solution is cited as being cleaner on the tank, leaving no residue, has a color indicator that changes the solution’s color from blue to clear. And finally, through an additional agent, the dissolved support material can be reclaimed as a clump and removed from the solution, leaving behind a solution that has a pH less than 9. Since PADT manufactures one of the most popular machines that are used to dissolve these supports that unbeknown to us, were used in the testing and development of the new solution, we had an enriching conversation with the lead chemist behind the solution. I was left wondering about the fundamental chemistry behind color changing, dissolution rates for supports and the reclaiming of support – and how these different features were optimized together to develop a usable end-solution.
Website: http://www.technic.com/techni-print-lp

 

4. Project Pan: Computationally Efficient Metal Powder Bed Fusion Simulation
I presented a literature review at AMUG (another Additive Manufacturing conference) last month, on the simulation of the laser-based powder bed fusion. At the time, I thought I had captured all the key players between the work being done at Lawrence Livermore National Labs by Wayne King’s group, the work of Brent Stucker at 3DSIM and the many academics using mostly commercially available software (mostly ANSYS) to simulate this problem. I learned at RAPID that I had neglected to include a company called “Project Pan” in my review. This team emerged from Prof. Pan Michaleris’s academic work. In 2012, he started a company that was acquired by Autodesk two months ago. In a series of 3 presentations at RAPID, Pan’s team demonstrated their simulation techniques (at a very high level) along with experimental validation work they had done with GE, Honeywell and others through America Makes and other efforts. What was most impressive about their work was both the speed of their computations and the fact that this team actually had complex part experimental validations to back up their simulation work. What most users of the powder bed fusion need is information on temperatures, stresses and distortion – and within time frames of a few hours ideally. It seems to me that Pan and his team took an approach that delivers exactly that information and little else using different numerical methods listed on their site (novel Hex8 elements, an element activation method and intelligent mesh refinement) that were likely developed by Pan over the years in his academic career and found the perfect application, first in welding simulation and then in the powder bed fusion process. With the recent Autodesk acquisition, it will be interesting to see how this rolls out commercially. Details of some of the numerical techniques used in the code can be found at their website, along with a list of related publications.

Website: http://pancomputing.com/

5. FDA Participation: Regulating through education and partnership
On a different note from the above, I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of the FDA, represented by Matthew Di Prima, PhD. He taught part of a workshop I attended on the first day, took the time to talk to everyone who had an interest and also gave a talk of his own in the conference sessions, describing the details of the recently released draft guidance from the FDA on 3D printing in medical applications. It was good to connect the regulatory agency to a person who clearly has the passion, knowledge, intelligence and commitment to make a difference in the Additive Manufacturing medical community. Yes, the barriers to entry in this space are high (ISO certifications, QSR systems, 510(k) & Pre-Market Approvals) but it seems clear that the FDA, at least as represented by Dr. Di Prima, are doing their best to be a transparent and willing partner.
Website: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/3DPrintingofMedicalDevices/default.htm

What really makes a trip to a conference like RAPID worth it are the new ideas, connections and possibilities you come away with that you may not stumble upon during your day job – and on that account, RAPID 2016 did not disappoint. As a line in one of my favorite song’s goes:

“We’ll never know, unless we grow.
There’s too much world outside the door.”
– Fran Healy (Travis, “Turn”).

PADT and ASU Collaborate on 3D Printed Lattice Research

The ASU Capstone team (left to right): Drew Gibson, Jacob Gerbasi, John Reeher, Matthew Finfrock, Deep Patel and Joseph Van Soest.
ASU student team (left to right): Drew Gibson, Jacob Gerbasi, John Reeher, Matthew Finfrock, Deep Patel and Joseph Van Soest

Over the past two academic semesters (2015/16), I had the opportunity to work closely with six senior-year undergraduate engineering students from the Arizona State University (ASU), as their industry adviser on an eProject (similar to a Capstone or Senior Design project). The area we wanted to explore with the students was in 3D printed lattice structures, and more specifically, address the material modeling aspects of these structures. PADT provided access to our 3D printing equipment and materials, ASU to their mechanical testing and characterization facilities and we both used ANSYS for simulation, as well as a weekly meeting with a whiteboard to discuss our ideas.

While there are several efforts ongoing in developing design and optimization software for lattice structures, there has been little progress in developing a robust, validated material model that accurately describes how these structures behave – this is what our eProject set out to do. The complex internal meso- and microstructure of these structures makes them particularly sensitive to process variables such as build orientation, layer thickness, deposition or fusion width etc., none of which are accounted for in models for lattice structures available today. As a result, the use of published values for bulk materials are not accurately predictive of true lattice structure behavior.

In this work, we combined analytical, experimental and numerical techniques to extract and validate material parameters that describe mechanical response of lattice structures. We demonstrated our approach on regular honeycomb structures of ULTEM-9085 material, made with the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process. Our results showed that we were able to predict low strain responses within 5-10% error, compared to 40-60% error with the use of bulk properties.

This work is to be presented in full at the upcoming RAPID conference on May 18, 2016 (details at this link) and has also been accepted for full length paper submission to the SFF Symposium. We are also submitting a research proposal that builds on this work and extends it into more complex geometries, metals and failure modeling. If you are interested in the findings of this work and/or would like to collaborate, please meet us at RAPID or send us an email (info@padtinc.com).

Our final poster and the Fortus 400mc that we printed all our honeycomb structures with
The final poster summarizing our work rests atop the Stratasys Fortus 400mc that we printed all our honeycomb structures on

Technology Trends in Laser-based Metal Additive Manufacturing

amug-2
Figure 1. Concept Laser’s M2 Cusing at AMUG 2016

One of the more difficult things about being at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) is dealing with the fact that there is more to do than you can hope to accomplish in four and a half days. So I decided to focus on two themes: laser-based metal additive manufacturing (AM); and design & simulation for AM. In this post, I focus on the former and try to distill the trends I noticed across the laser-based metal AM system manufacturers that were present at the conference: Concept Laser, SLM, Renishaw, EOS and 3D Systems (listed here in the decreasing order of the time I spent at each supplier’s booth). While it is interesting to study how 5 different suppliers interpret the same technology and develop machines around it, it is not my objective to compare them here, but to extract common trends that most suppliers seem to be working on to push their machines to the next level. For the purposes of this post, I have picked the top-of-the-line machine that each supplier offers as an indication of the technology’s capabilities: they span a range of price points, so once again this is not meant to be a comparison.

As a point of observation, the 5 key trends I noticed turned out to be all really aspects of taking the technology from short run builds towards continuous production. This was not my intent, so I believe it is an accurate indication of what suppliers are prioritizing at this stage of the technology’s growth and see as providing key levers for differentiation.

1. Quality Monitoring

Most customers of AM machines that wish to use it for functional part production bemoan the lack of controls during manufacturing that allow them to assess the quality of a part and screen for excursionary behavior without requiring expensive post-processing inspection. Third party companies like Sigma Labs and  Stratonics have developed platform-independent solutions that can be integrated with most metal AM systems. Metal AM suppliers themselves have developed a range of in-situ monitors that were discussed in a few presentations during AMUG, and they generally fall into the following categories:

  • Input Monitors:
    • Laser: Sensors monitor laser powder as well as temperature across the different critical components in the system
    • Oxygen Level: Sensors in the build chamber as well as in sieving stations track O2 levels to ensure the flushing of air with inert Argon or Nitrogen has been effective and that there are no leaks in the system
  • Output Monitors:
    • Live video: simple but useful, this allows users to get a live video stream of the top layer as it is being built and can help detection of recoater blade damage and part interaction
    • Meltpool: Concept Laser showed how its Meltpool monitoring system can be used to develop 2D and 3D plots that can be superimposed with the 3D CAD file to identify problematic areas – the video is also on YouTube and embedded below. SLM and EOS offer similar meltpool monitoring solutions.
    • Coater consistency: Concept Laser also described a monitor that captures before and after pictures to assess the consistency of the coater thickness across the build area – and this information is fed forward to adjust subsequent coater thicknesses in an intelligent manner.

Quality monitoring systems are still in their infancy with regard to what is done with the information generated, either in terms of feed forward (active) process control or even having high confidence in using the data to validate part quality. A combination of supplier development and academic and industry R&D is ongoing to get us to the next level.

2. Powder Handling

In a previous post, I touched upon the fire and explosion risks posed by metal powder handling. To lower the bar for an operator to gain access to a metal AM machine, one of the considerations is operator safety and the associated training they would need. Suppliers are constantly trying to improve the methods by which they can minimize powder handling. For a mechanical engineer, it is intriguing to see how reactive metal powders can be moved around in inert atmospheres using different strategies. The SLM 500HL uses a screw system to move the powder around in narrow tubes that stick out of the machine and direct the material to a sieving station after which they are returned to the feed area. The Renishaw RenAM 500M on the other hand uses a pneumatically driven recirculation system powered by Argon gas that is well integrated into the machine frame. Concept Laser also offers automated powder handling on the XLine 2000R, while EOS and 3DSystems do not offer this at the moment. Figure 2 below does not do justice to the level of complexity and thought that needs to go into this.

Figure 2. Two different automated powder handling systems in use in metal AM machines

One of the limitations of automating powder handling is the ability to change materials, which is very hard to impossible to do with high enough confidence with these systems. As a result, their use is limited to cases where one machine can be dedicated to one material and efficiency gains of powder handling can be fully realized. The jury is still out on the long term performance of these systems, and I suspect this is one area that will continue to see improvements and refinements in subsequent model releases.

3. Multi-Laser Processing

In the quest for productivity improvement, one of the biggest gains comes from increasing the number and power of available lasers for manufacturing. In my previous experience with laser based systems (albeit not for this application), an additional laser can increase overall machine throughput by 50-80% (it does not double due to steps like the recoater blade movement that does not scale with the number of lasers).

The suppliers I visited at AMUG have very different approaches to this: SLM provides the widest range of customizable options for laser selection with their 500HL, which can accept either 2 or 4 lasers with power selection choices of 400W or 1000W (the 4 laser option was on display, YouTube video from the same machine in action is below) – the lasers of different powers can also be combined to have two 400W and two 1000W lasers. Concept Laser’s XLine 2000R allows for either 1 or 2 1000W lasers and their smaller, M2 machine that was showcased at AMUG has options for 1 or 2 lasers, with power selection of 200W or 400W. EOS, Renishaw and 3D Systems presently offer only single laser solutions: the EOS M 400 has one 1000W laser, Renishaw’s RenAM 500M has one 500W laser and the ProX DMP 320 from 3D Systems has one 500W laser.

There are a few considerations to be aware of when assessing a multi-laser machine: Each laser drives an increase in machine capital cost. But there is another point of note to remember when using multi-laser systems for manufacturing that centers around matching process outputs from different lasers: laser-to-laser variation can be a dominant source of overall process variation and can drive a need to calibrate, maintain and control both lasers as if they were independent machine systems. Additionally, development of  a process on one particular laser power (100W, 400W, 500W, 1000W) may not scale easily to another and is something to remember when developing a long term strategy for metal AM that involves different kinds of machines, even if from the same supplier.

4. Software Integration

Renishaw spent a significant amount of time talking about their easy-to-use QuantAM software which is designed to integrate Renishaw process parameters and part processing information more tightly and allow for seamless process parameter development without needing third part software like Magics. Additive Industries announced in their presentation at AMUG that they had just signed an agreement with 3DSIM to integrate their support design software solution into their MetalFab1 machine. Software integration is likely to be an increasing trend especially around the following areas:

  • Improving support design methods and reducing its empirical nature and reducing the material, build time and support removal costs associated with them as well as eliminating the need for iterative builds
  • Increasing process options available to the user (for example for the outer skin vs the inner core, or for thick vs thin walls)
  • Simplifying the development of optimized process parameters for the user working on new materials
  • Integrating design and process optimization to increase effective part performance

In a future blog post, I will look specifically at the many design and simulation tools available around AM and how they are connected today even if not well-synergized.

5. Modular System Architectures

In a list of mostly evolutionary changes, this is the one area that struck me as being a step-change in how this technology will make an impact, even if it will be felt only by larger scale manufacturers. Concept Laser and Additive Industries are two companies that delivered presentations discussing how they were approaching the challenge of revolutionizing the technology for true production and minimizing the need for human touch. Common to both is the notion of modularity, allowing for stacking of printing, powder removal, heat treating and other stations. While Additive Industries are developing a flow resembling a series production line, Concept Laser have taken the more radical approach of having autonomous vehicles delivering the powder bed to the different stations, with travel channels for the vehicles, for the operator and for maintenance access (Figure 3). Both companies expect to have solutions out by the end of this year.

Figure 3. Concept Laser’s “Factory of Tomorrow” features swim-lanes for operators and for autonomous vehicles that will deliver powder and parts from one module to another

Concluding Thoughts

It is an interesting time to be a manufacturer of laser-based metal 3D printers, and an even more interesting time to be a consumer of this technology. The laser-material interaction fundamentals of the process are now fairly well-established. Competitors abound both in existing and emerging markets with machines that share many of the same capabilities. Alternative technologies (E-Beam melting, deposition and jetting) are making strides and may start to play in some applications currently dominated by laser-based technologies. A post early-adopter chasm may be around the corner. This will continuously drive the intense need to innovate and differentiate, and possibly also lead to a merger or two. And while most of the news coming out of conferences is justifiably centered around new process technologies (as was the case with Carbon’s CLIP and XJET’s metal nanoparticle jetting at AMUG this year), I think there is an interesting story developing in laser-based powder bed fusion and can’t wait to see what AMUG 2017 looks like!

Reactive and Non-Reactive Metal Alloys in Laser-based Powder Bed Fusion

One of the first concepts you come across in metal 3D printing is the notion of reactivity of the powder metal alloys – in this post, I investigate why some of these powder alloys are classified as reactive and others as non-reactive, and briefly touch upon the implications of this to the user of metal 3D printing tools, scoping the discussion to laser-based powder bed fusion. Ultimately, this boils down to a safety issue and I believe it is important that we, the users of these technologies, truly understand the fundamentals behind the measures we are trained to follow. If you are looking to get something chemical etched visit https://interplex.com/technology/process-capability/chemical-etching/.

Figure 1 below is indicative of the range of materials available currently for the laser-based powder bed fusion process (this selection is from Concept Laser). I have separated these into non-reactive and reactive metal alloys. The former includes steels, Inconels, bronze and CoCrW alloys. The reactive metal alloys on the other hand are Aluminum or Titanium based. The question is: what classifies them as such in the context of this process?

Figure 1.
Figure 1. Typical metal alloys available for the laser-based powder bed fusion process (from Concept Laser), classified as Non-Reactive and Reactive

Reactivity in this process really pertains to the likelihood of the alloy in question serving as a fuel for a fire and/or an explosion, which are two related but distinct phenomena. To truly understand the risk associated with powder metals, we must first understand a few basic concepts.

1. Fire and Explosion Criteria

Figure 2 is a commonly used representation of the criteria that need to be met to initiate a fire (fuel, oxygen and an ignition source) and an explosion (the same three criteria for a fire, plus a dust cloud and confined space). When handling reactive metal alloy powders, it is important to remember that two of the three requirements for a fire are almost always met and the key lies in avoiding the other criterion. When not processing the powder in the machine, it is often subject to ambient oxygen content and thus all precautions are taken to prevent an ignition source (an ESD spark, for example). When the metal is being processed with a high power laser, it is done in an inert atmosphere at very low Oxygen levels. This thought process of appreciating you are one criterion away from a fire is useful, if sobering, to bear in mind when working with these powders.

fireexplosion
Figure 2. The fire triangle and explosion pentagon

2. Terms Used to Describe Fire and Explosion Risk

There are several terms used to describe fire and explosion risk. I have picked 5 here that tie into the overall “index” I will discuss in the following section. All these parameters are in turn functions of the material in question, both with regard to its composition and its size distribution and are co-dependent. These definitions are adapted from Benson (2012) and Prodan et al. (2012).

  • Fire Related: These two terms describe the sensitivity of a metal dust cloud to ignition.
    • Ignition Temperature: This is the lowest surface temperature capable of igniting a powder or dust dispersed in the form of a dust cloud
    • Minimum Ignition Energy: This measures the ease of ignition of a dust cloud by electrical and electrostatic discharges.
  • Explosion Related: These terms describe the severity of an explosion arising from a fire once ignited.
    • Minimum Explosion Concentration (MEC): This is the smallest amount of dust which when suspended in air, under a set of test conditions, will initiate an explosion and propagate even after the action of the ignition source has ceased.
    • Maximum Explosion Pressure: This is a measure of the highest pressure that occurs during of an explosion of a flammable mixture in a closed vessel.
    • Maximum Rate of Pressure Rise: This is the maximum slope of the pressure/time curve during a flammable mixture explosion in a closed vessel.

3. Index of Explosibility

Having defined these terms, the question is how they can be tied together to give some sense of the hazard associated with each metal powder. I came across a 1964 US Bureau of Mines study that defined an Index of Explosibility as a measure of the hazard risk posed by powder metal alloys. The index represents both the sensitivity of the powder to ignition, and once ignited, the severity of the resulting explosion. Since this is a subjective metric, it is normalized by comparison against a “standard”, which was selected as Pittsburgh coal dust in the 1964 study. Importantly though, this normalization enables us to do qualitative comparisons between metal powders and have some sense of the hazard risk posed by them. Figure 3 is the equation reproduced from the original 1964 report and shows how this term is estimated.

Index of Explosibility (US Bureau of Mines study, 1964)
Figure 3. Index of Explosibility (US Bureau of Mines study, 1964)
Figure 3. Particle size has a significant impact on explosibility
Figure 4. Particle size has a significant impact on explosibility

The study also showed how the index was a direct function of particle size. Most powders for 3D metal printing are in the 20-100um range, and as shown in Fig. 4 for atomized Aluminum, the risk of an explosion increases with reducing particle diameter. 

The authors tested a range of metals and computed the different variables, which I have compiled anew in the table in Figure 5 for the ones we are interested in for metal 3D printing. The particle sizes in the 1964 study were ones that made it through a No. 200 sieve (less than 75 microns), but did not include sub-micron particles – this makes it an appropriate comparison for metal 3D printing. It is clear from the Index of Explosibility values, as well as the Cloud Ignition Temperatures in the table below why Aluminum and Titanium are classified as reactive metals requiring special attention and care.

Figure . Explosibility study findings from US Bureau of Mines study (1964)
Figure 5. Index of Explosibility comparison for selected metal alloys, adapted from US Bureau of Mines study (1964)

4. Implications for Metal 3D Printing

So what does this mean for metal 3D printing? There are three things to be aware of that are influenced by whether you are working with non-reactive or reactive alloys – I only provide a general discussion here, specific instructions will be provided to you in supplier training and manuals and must be followed.

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): There are typically two levels of PPE: standard and extended. The standard PPE can be used for non-reactive alloy handling, but the reactive alloys require the more stringent, extended PPE. The main difference is that the extended PPE requires the use of a full bunny suit, ESD grounding straps and thermal gloves.
  • Need for Inert Gas Handling: Many tasks on a metal 3D printer require handling of powder (pouring the powder into the chamber, excavating a part, cleaning the chamber of powder etc.). Most of these tasks can be performed in the ambient for non-reactive metal alloys with standard PPE, but for reactive alloys these tasks must be performed in an inert atmosphere.
  • Local authority approvals: It is important that your local authorities including the fire marshall, are aware of the materials you are processing and review and authorize their use in your facility before you turn on the machine. Local regulations may require special procedures be implemented for preparing the room for use of reactive metal alloys, that do not apply to non-reactive metals. It is vital that the authorities are brought into the discussion early on and necessary certifications obtained, keeping in mind that reactive metal alloy use may drive additional investment in safety measures.

5. Conclusion

Safe operation of metal 3D printers requires installation of all the necessary safety equipment, extensive hands-on training and the use of checklists as memory aides. In addition to that, it helps to connect these to the fundamental reasons why these steps are important so as to gain a clearer appreciation of the source of the hazard and the nature of the risk it poses. In this article I have tried to demonstrate why reactivity in metal 3D printing matters and what the basis is for the classification of these metal alloys into reactive and non-reactive by leveraging an old 1964 study. I wish to close with a reminder that this information is meant to supplement formal training from your equipment supplier – if there is any conflict in the information presented here, please revert to your supplier’s recommendations.

Thank you for reading; stay safe as you innovate!

Support Design and Removal for 3D Printed ULTEM-9085 (Case Study: Intake Manifold)

ULTEM-9085 is one of my favorite materials to 3D-print: one of the reasons is it is a high performance polymer that can and has been used for end part manufacturing (see my blog post about ULTEM in functional aerospace parts), but the other is because it is a demanding material to print, in ways that ABS, Polycarbonate and even Nylon are not. What makes it demanding is primarily that ULTEM supports are not soluble and need to be removed mechanically. An additional challenge comes from the fact that the support is best removed when the part is at a high temperature (175-195 C), which requires the use of gloves and reduces the user’s dexterity. For complex geometries with internal channels, this is particularly challenging and occasionally results in an inability to print a certain part in ULTEM-9085, which runs contrary to the design freedom this technology otherwise enables.

In this post, I accumulate what I have learned through working (and failing) on many an ULTEM-9085 job, as well as through discussions with other users, and share this here in terms of design and process guidelines. To demonstrate these guidelines, I use a recent geometry that we printed for the Arizona State University’s (ASU) SAE team for an engine intake manifold. These guidelines apply to the Stratasys Fortus platform (for Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM) using the Insight software that accompanies these tools. The screen shots are from Insight 10.6, and a Fortus 400 was used to print the parts shown.

Summary of Guidelines:

  1. Orient the part to eliminate supports in regions where you cannot remove them
  2. Use the box support style
  3. Optimize parameter settings (support angle, contour width, layer thickness)
  4. Remove the supports as soon as the part comes out of the build chamber
  5. Other observations: the interface of separation

1. Part Orientation

The single most important factor in simplifying support removal is part orientation. Most users of the FDM process know that part orientation determines the amount of support material consumed and also impacts the time to build the part. When working with ULTEM-9085, the additional challenge is that it is possible to design in supports that cannot be removed and will require you to scrap the job. This is especially true of internal features. While the automatic orientation feature in Insight allows you to minimize supports, it does not account for the difficulty of removing them. Thus when you are dealing with internal features, you may need to manually orient your part such that the internal features are aligned as close to the vertical as possible, and above the support angle (to be covered later).

As shown in Figure 1, for the intake manifold, I oriented the internal pipe structure close to the vertical and had to iterate a few times and verify that I had no support in the hard-to-reach areas. While I did have supports internally, they were limited to areas that were easy to access.

Figure 1. Engine intake manifold, to be printed out of ULTEM-9085
Figure 1. Engine intake manifold, to be printed out of ULTEM-9085
Figure 2. Part orientation to avoid any internal supports
Figure 2. Part orientation to avoid any internal supports in inaccessible regions

2. Box Supports

In a recent software upgrade, Insight added the ability to create box supports. The support structures consist of adjacent boxes instead of a continuous raster, which has the effect of allowing for easier separation of the support, though does slow down the build time. In my experience this support strategy does help with removal – the one parameter to consider here is the “Perforations” setting, though the default values were used for this part. The perforation is a layer of model material that is inserted into the support to make for easier breaking off of the support material. All cleavage surfaces in Fig. 3 are at perforation edges and you can see the building like construction with each floor distinguished by a layer of model material. When you have supports in hard to access regions, consider increasing the interval height so as to ensure you get separation at the model-support interface on the part before it occurs within the support on a perforation layer.

Figure Box Supports
Figure 3. Box Supports after removal from an ULTEM-9085 part

3. Optimize Process Parameters

While orientation will have the most significant impact on the support you need, another variable to be aware of is the “Self-Support Angle” parameter. This angle is measured from the horizontal, and represents the minimum angle of the part wall that will be built without supports. As a result, to reduce support requirements, you want this number to be as low as possible so that a greater volume of the part can be self-supported. Stratasys recommends default values, but these scale as a function of the contour width, and layer thickness, as shown in Fig. 4. The values bottom out at 40 degrees for the 0.013″ layer thickness and 43 degrees for the 0.010″ layer thickness. Thus, all other things being equal, you will be able to reduce the support needed by choosing a 0.013″ layer thickness and a 0.026″ or larger contour width. Note that both of these will impact your ability to resolve thin walls and fine features, so ensure you scan through all the tool-paths to validate that the geometry is accurately filled in.

Figure 4. Graph showing how the default values of the self-support angle vary as a function of contour width for the two layer thickness options available for ULTEM. Lower the angle, less the support needed.

4. Remove Supports Immediately

Supports are best removed when the model-support interface is hot. The best time to do this is right after you remove the parts from the print chamber, which is held at 195 C for ULTEM-9085. Ensure you have safety glasses on, work with thermal gloves and have a plier handy to pull out the support. In theory the parts can be re-heated again (175 C is a reasonable value for the oven), but Stratasys suggests that each re-heat cycle actually strengthens the interface, making it harder to remove. As a result, the best time to remove the supports is immediately out of the printer. Figure 5 shows the results of support removal for the intake manifold parts, including the build sheet.

Figure 5. Support removal can be a messy affair as you beat the clock against the cooling parts. Ensure you have gloves, a plier and safety glasses on.
Figure 5. Support removal can be a messy affair as you beat the clock against the cooling parts. Ensure you have gloves, a plier and safety glasses on.

5. Other Observations: the Interface of Separation

It helps to visualize what we are trying to do when we remove supports. There are two interfaces in question here, as shown in Figure 6. One is the model-support interface, the other is the support-box structure interface. We need separation at the model-support interface since removing the thin piece of interface material can prove challenging if the box supports have broken off (as happened for the piece below). What this means is as you remove support, you need to not just pull the supports but also add some peeling force that creates the separation. Once you create separation at the correct interface, you can pull the supports and should have proper cleavage.

Figure 6. (top) Support-model interface surface, and (bottom) support structure interface - it is important to get separation at the former interface
Figure 6. (top) Support-model interface surface, and (bottom) support structure interface – it is important to get separation at the former interface

One final point to keep in mind is that in some cases, eliminating internal supports may be impossible, as shown for a different part in Figure 7 below. The point is to eliminate the support in places you cannot reach with your pliers and get enough peeling force applied to. In the case below, I chose to have supports at the wide opening since I had adequate access to them. With practice, you will get a better sense of what supports can and cannot be removed and use that intuition to better shape your design and process layout decisions before you print.

Figure 6. Support in internal features are alright as long as you have access to them
Figure 7. Support in internal features are alright as long as you have access to them
Figure 7. The final part!
Figure 8. The final part
The ULTEM intake manifold runner and plenum being put through its paces at the ASU Formula SAE test rig
Figure 9. The ULTEM intake manifold runner along with a plenum that we also printed, both being put through their paces at the ASU Formula SAE test rig (Photo Ack: Michael Conard)

Show your support for ASU’s Formula SAE team at their Facebook page and see a video about the endeavor here.

The 3D Printing Value Proposition

At a recent Lunch-n-Learn organized by the Arizona Technology Council, I had the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes on 3D printing. I decided to focus my talk on trying to answer one question: how can I determine if 3D printing can benefit my business? In this blog post, I attempt to expand on the ideas I presented there.

While a full analysis of the Return-On-Investment would require a more rigorous and quantitative approach, I believe there are 5 key drivers that determine the value proposition for a company to invest in 3D printing, be it in the form of outsourced services or capital expenditure. If these drivers resonate with opportunities and challenges you see in your business, it is likely that 3D printing can benefit you.

1. Accelerating Product Development

3D printing has its origins in technologies that enabled Rapid Prototyping (RP), a field that continues to have a significant impact in product development and is one most people are familiar with. As shown in Figure 1, PADT’s own product development process involves using prototypes for alpha and beta development and for testing. RP is a cost- and time effective way of iterating upon design ideas to find ones that work, without investing in expensive tooling and long lead times. If you work in product development you are very likely already using RP in your design cycle. Some of the considerations then become:

  • Are you leveraging the complete range of materials including high temperature polymers (such as ULTEM), Nylons and metals for your prototyping work? Many of these materials can be used in functional tests and not just form and fit assessments.
  • Should you outsource your RP work to a service bureau or purchase the equipment to do it in-house? This will be determined by your RP needs and one possibility is to purchase lower-cost equipment for your most basic RP jobs (using ABS, for example) and outsource only those jobs requiring specialized materials like the ones mentioned above.
PADT's Product Development process showing the role of prototypes (3D printed most of the time)
Figure 1. PADT’s Product Development process showing the role of prototypes (most often 3D printed)

The video below contains several examples of prototypes made by PADT using a range of technologies over the past two decades.

2. Exploiting Design Freedom

Due to its additive nature, 3D printing allows for the manufacturing of intricate part geometries that are prohibitively expensive (or in some cases impossible) to manufacture with traditional means. If you work with parts and designs that have complex geometries, or are finding your designs constrained by the requirements of manufacturing, 3D printing can help. This design freedom can be leveraged for several different benefits, four of which I list below:

2.1 Internal Features

As a result of its layer-by-layer approach to manufacturing a part, 3D printing enables complex internal geometries that are cost prohibitive or even impossible to manufacture with traditional means. The exhaust gas probe in Fig. 2 was developed by RSC engineering in partnership with Concept Laser has 6 internal pipes surrounded by cooling channels and was printed as one part.

3D Printed Exhaust Gas Probe (RSC Engineering and Concept Laser Inc.)
Fig 2. 3D Printed Exhaust Gas Probe with intricate internal features (RSC Engineering and Concept Laser Inc.)

2.2 Strength-to-Weight Optimization

One of the reasons the aerospace industry has been a leader in the application of 3D printing is the fact that you are now able to manufacture complex geometries that emerge from a topology optimization solution and reduce component weight, as shown in the bracket manufactured by Airbus in Figure 3.

Titanium Airbus bracket made by Concept Laser on board the A350
Fig 3. Titanium Airbus bracket made by Concept Laser on board the A350

2.3 Assembly Consolidation

The ability to work in a significantly less constrained design space also allows the designer to integrate parts in an assembly thereby reducing assembly costs and sourcing headaches. The part below (also from Airbus) is a fuel assembly that integrated 10 parts into 1 printed part.

Airbus Fuel Assembly 3D printed out of metal (Airbus / Concept Laser)
Fig 4. Airbus Fuel Assembly 3D printed out of metal (Airbus / Concept Laser)

2.4 Bio-inspiration

Nature provides several design cues, optimized through the process of evolution over millenia. Some of these include lattices and hierarchical structures. 3D printing makes it possible to translate more of these design concepts into engineering structures and parts for benefits of material usage minimization and property optimization. The titanium implant shown in Figure 5 exploits lattice designs to optimize the effective modulus in different locations to more closely represent the properties of an individuals bone in that region.

Titanium implant leveraging lattice designs (Concept Laser)
Fig 5. Titanium implant leveraging lattice designs (Concept Laser)

3. Simplifying the Supply Chain, Reducing Lead Times

One of the most significant impacts 3D printing has is on lead time reduction, and this is the reason why it is the preferred technology for “rapid” prototyping. Most users of 3D printing for end-part manufacturing identify a 70-90% reduction in lead time, primarily as a result of not requiring the manufacturing of tooling, reducing the need to identify one or more suppliers. Additionally, businesses can reduce their supplier management burden by in-sourcing the manufacturing of these parts. Finally, because of the reduced lead times, inventory levels can be significantly reduced. The US Air Force sees 3D printing as a key technology in improving their sustainability efforts to reduce the downtime associated with aircraft awaiting parts. Airbus recently also used 3D printing to print seat belt holders for their A310 – the original supplier was out of business and the cost and lead time to identify and re-tool a new supplier were far greater than 3D printed parts.

4. Reducing Costs for High Mix Low Volume Manufacturing

According to the 2015 Wohlers report, about 43% of the revenue generated in 3D printing comes from the manufacturing of functional, or end-use parts. When 3D printing is the process of choice for the actual manufacturing of end-use parts, it adds a direct cost to each unit manufactured (as opposed to an indirect R&D cost associated with developing the product). This cost, when compared to traditional means of manufacturing, is significantly lower for high mix low volume manufacturing (High Mix – LVM), and this is shown in Figure 6 for two extreme cases. At one extreme is mass customization, where each individual part has a unique geometry of construction (e.g. hearing aids, dental aligners) – in these cases, 3D printing is very likely to be the lowest cost manufacturing process. At the other end of the spectrum is High Volume Manufacturing (HVM) (e.g. semiconductor manufacturing, children’s toys), where the use of traditional methods lowers costs. The break-point lies somewhere in between and will vary by the the part being produced and the volumes anticipated. A unit cost assessment that includes the cost of labor, materials, equipment depreciation, facilities, floor space, tooling and other costs can aid with this determination.

Chart showing how volumes drive unit prices and where 3D Printing can be the cheaper option
Fig 6. Chart showing how volumes drive unit prices and where 3D Printing can be the cheaper option for low volumes and high mix manufacturing

5. Developing New Applications

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of 3D printing is how people all around the world are using it for new applications that go beyond improving upon conventional manufacturing techniques. Dr. Anthony Atala’s 2011 TED talk involved the demonstration of an early stage technique of depositing human kidney cells that could someday aid with kidney transplants (see Figure 7). Rarely does a week go by with some new 3D printing application making the news: space construction, 3D surgical guides, customized medicine to name a few. The elegant and intuitive method of building something layer-by-layer lends itself wonderfully to the imagination. And the ability to test and iterate rapidly with a 3D printer by your side allows for accelerating innovation at a rate unlike any manufacturing process that has come before it.

Dr. Anthony Atala showing a 3D printed kidney [Image Attr. Steve Jurvetson]
Fig 7. Dr. Anthony Atala showing a 3D printed kidney [Image Attr. Steve Jurvetson, Wikimedia Commons]

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the introduction, if you or your company have challenges and needs in one or more of the 5 areas above, it is unlikely to be a question of whether 3D printing can be of benefit to you (it will), but one of how you should best invest in it for maximum return. Further, it is likely that you will accrue a combination of benefits (such as assembly consolidation and supply simplification) across a range of parts, making this technology an attractive long term investment. At PADT, we offer 3D printing both as a service and also sell most of the printers we use on a daily basis and are thus well positioned to help you make this assessment, so contact us!

Additive Manufacturing – Back to the Future!

Paul Nigh's 'TeamTimeCar.com' Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine
Production of Back to the Future began in 1984 – it was recently announced that the DeLorean is to go back in production with new cars rolling out in 2017

Most histories of Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) trace the origins of the technology back to Charles Hull’s 1984 patent, the same year production began on the first of the Back to the Future movies. Which is something of a shock when you see 3D printing dotting the Gartner Hype Cycle like it was invented in the post-Seinfeld era. But that is not what this post is about.

When I started working on Additive Manufacturing (AM), I was amazed at the number of times I was returning to text books and class notes I had used in graduate school a decade ago. This led me to reflect on how AM is helping bring back to the forefront disciplines that had somehow lost their cool factor – either by becoming part of the old normal, or because they contained ideas that were ahead of their time. I present three such areas of research that I state, with only some exaggeration, were waiting for AM to come along.

  • Topology Optimization: I remember many a design class where we would discuss topology optimization, look at fancy designs and end with a conversation that involved one of the more cynical students asking “All that’s fine, but how are you going to make that?”. Cue the elegant idea of building up a structure layer-by layer. AM is making it possible to manufacture parts with geometries that look like they came right out of a stress contour plot. And firms such as ANSYS, Autodesk and Altair, as well as universities and labs are all working to improve their capabilities at the intersection of topology optimization and additive manufacturing.
Topology optimization applied to the design of an automobile upper control-arm done with GENESIS Topology for ANSYS Mechanical (GTAM) from Vanderplaats Research & Development and ANSYS SpaceClaim
Topology optimization applied to the design of an automobile upper control-arm done with GENESIS Topology for ANSYS Mechanical (GTAM) from Vanderplaats Research & Development and ANSYS SpaceClaim
And we printed that!
And we printed that!
  • Lattice Structures: One of the first books I came across when I joined PADT was a copy of Cellular Solids by Lorna Gibson and M.F. Ashby. Prof. Gibson’s examples of these structures as they occur in nature demonstrate how they provide an economy of material usage for the task at hand. Traditionally, in engineering structures, cellular designs are limited to foams or consistent shapes like sandwich panels where the variation in cell geometry is limited – this is because manufacturing techniques do not normally lend themselves well to building complex, three dimensional structures like those found in nature. With AM technologies however, cell sizes and structures can be varied and densities modified depending on the design of the structure and the imposed loading conditions, making this an exciting area of research.

    Lattice specimens made with the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process
    Lattice specimens made with the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process
  • Metallurgy: As I read the preface to my “Metallurgy for the Non-Metallurgist” text book, I was surprised to note the author openly bemoan the decline of interest in metallurgy, and subsequently, fewer metallurgists in the field. And I guess it makes sense: materials science is today mostly concerned with much smaller scales than the classical metallurgist trained in. Well, lovers of columnar grain growth and precipitation hardening can now rejoice – metallurgy is at the very heart of AM technology today – most of the projected growth in AM is in metals. The science of powder metallurgy and the microstructure-property-process relationships of the metal AM technologies are vital building blocks to our understanding of metal 3D printing. Luckily for me, I happen to possess a book on powder metallurgy. And it too, is from 1984.
This book was printed in 1984, and is very relevant today
Published 1984

Key Process Phenomena in the Laser Fusion of Metals

Metal 3D printing involves a combination of complex interacting phenomena at a range of length and time scales. In this blog post, I discuss three of these that lie at the core of the laser fusion of metals: phase changes, residual stresses and solidification structure (see Figure 1). I describe each phenomenon briefly and then why understanding it matters. In future posts I will dive deeper into each one of these areas and review what work is being done to advance our understanding of them.

Fig. 1 Schematic showing the process of laser fusion of metals and the four key phenomena of phase changes, melt pool behavior, thermomechanical effects and microstructure evolution
Fig. 1 Schematic showing the process of laser fusion of metals and the three key phenomena of phase changes, residual stresses and solidification structure

Phase Changes

Phases and the mechanisms by which they transition from one to the other
Fig. 2 Phases and the mechanisms by which they transition

Phase changes describe the transition from one phase to another, as shown in Figure 2. All phases are present in the process of laser fusion of metals. Metal in powder form (solid) is heated by means of a laser beam with spot sizes on the order of tens of microns. The powder then melts to form a melt pool (liquid) and then solidifies to form a portion of a layer of the final part (solid). During this process, there is visible gas and smoke, some of which ionizes to plasma.

The transition from powder to melt pool to solid part, as shown in Figure 3, is the essence of this process and understanding this is of vital importance. For example, if the laser fluence is too high, defects such as balling or discontinuous welds are possible and for low laser fluence, a full melt may not be obtained and thus lead to voids. Selecting the right laser, material and build parameters is thus essential to optimize the size and depth of the liquid melt pool, which in turn governs the density and structure of the final part. Finally, and this is more true of high power lasers, excessive gas and plasma generation can interfere with the incident laser fluence to reduce its effectiveness.

Primary phase changes from powder to melt pool to solid part
Fig. 3 Primary phase changes from powder to melt pool to solid part

Residual Stresses

Residual stresses are stresses that exist in a structure after it reaches equilibrium with its environment. In the laser metal fusion process, residual stresses arise due to two related mechanisms [Mercelis & Kruth, 2006]:

  • Thermal Gradient: A steep temperature gradient develops during laser heating, with higher temperatures on the surface driving expansion against the cooler underlying layers and thereby introducing thermal stresses that could lead to plastic deformation.
  • Volume Shrinkage: Shrinkage in volume in the laser metal fusion process occurs due to several reasons: shrinkage from a powder to a liquid, shrinkage as the liquid itself cools, shrinkage during phase transition from liquid to solid and final shrinkage as the solid itself cools. These shrinkage events occur to a greater extent at the top layer, and reduce as one goes to lower layers.
Fig. 4 Residual stresses resulting from thermal gradients and volume changes
Fig. 4 Residual stresses resulting from thermal gradients and volume changes

After cooling, these two mechanisms together have the effect of creating compressive stresses on the top layers of the part, and tensile stresses on the bottom layers as shown in Figure 4. Since parts are held down by supports, these stresses could have the effect of peeling off supports from the build plate, or breaking off the supports from the part itself as shown in Figure 4. Thus, managing residual stresses is essential to ensuring a built part stays secured on the base plate and also for minimizing the amount of supports needed. A range of strategies are employed to mitigate residual stresses including laser rastering strategies, heated build plates and post-process thermal stress-relieving.

Solidification Structure

Solidification structure refers to the material structure of the resulting part that arises due to the solidification of the metal from a molten state, as is accomplished in the laser fusion of metals. It is well known that the structure of a metal alloy strongly influences its properties and further, that solidification process history has a strong influence on this structure, as does any post processing such as a thermal exposure. The wide range of materials and processing equipment in the laser metal fusion process makes it challenging to develop a cohesive theory on the nature of structure for these metals, but one approach is to study this on four length scales as shown in Figure 5. As an example, I have summarized the current understanding of each of these structures specifically for Ti-6Al-4V, which is one of the more popular alloys used in metal additive manufacturing. Of greatest interest are the macro-, meso- and microstructure, all of which influence mechanical properties of the final part. Understanding the nature of this structure, and correlating it to measured properties is a key step in certifying these materials and structures for end-use application.

FIg. 5 Four levels of solidification structure and the typical observations for Ti-6Al-4V
FIg. 5 Four levels of solidification structure and the typical observations for Ti-6Al-4V

Discussion

Phase changes, residual stresses and solidification structure are three areas where an understanding of the fundamentals is crucial to solve problems and explore new opportunities that can accelerate the adoption of metal additive manufacturing. Over the past decade, most of this work has been, and continues to be, experimental in nature. However, in the last few years, progress has been made in deriving this understanding through simulation, but significant challenges remain, making this an exciting area of research in additive manufacturing to watch in the coming years.

References

  1. Mercelis, P., & Kruth, J. (2006). Residual stresses in selective laser sintering and selective laser melting. Rapid Prototyping Journal, 12(5), 254-265.
  2. Simonelli, M., Tse, Y.Y., Tuck, C., (2012) Further Understanding of Ti-6Al-4V selective laser melting using texture analysis, SFF Symposium
  3. King, W. E. and Anderson, A. T. and Ferencz, R. M. and Hodge, N. E. and Kamath, C. and Khairallah, S. A. and Rubenchik, A. M., (2015) Laser powder bed fusion additive manufacturing of metals; physics, computational, and materials challenges, Applied Physics Reviews, 2, 041304

Constitutive Modeling of 3D Printed FDM Parts: Part 2 (Approaches)

In part 1 of this two-part post, I reviewed the challenges in the constitutive modeling of 3D printed parts using the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process. In this second part, I discuss some of the approaches that may be used to enable analyses of FDM parts even in presence of these challenges. I present them below in increasing order of the detail captured by the model.

  • Conservative Value: The simplest method is to represent the material with an isotropic material model using the most conservative value of the 3 directions specified in the material datasheet, such as the one from Stratasys shown below for ULTEM-9085 showing the lower of the two modulii selected. The conservative value can be selected based on the desired risk assessment (e.g. lower modulus if maximum deflection is the key concern). This simplification brings with it a few problems:
    • The material property reported is only good for the specific build parameters, stacking and layer thickness used in the creation of the samples used to collect the data
    • This gives no insight into build orientation or processing conditions that can be improved and as such has limited value to an anlayst seeking to use simulation to improve part design and performance
    • Finally, in terms of failure prediction, the conservative value approach disregards inter-layer effects and defects described in the previous blog post and is not recommended to be used for this reason
ULTEM-9085 datasheet from Stratasys - selecting the conservative value is the easiest way to enable preliminary analysis
ULTEM-9085 datasheet from Stratasys – selecting the conservative value is the easiest way to enable preliminary analysis
  • Orthotropic Properties: A significant improvement from an isotropic assumption is to develop a constitutive model with orthotropic properties, which has properties defined in all three directions. Solid mechanicians will recognize the equation below as the compliance matrix representation of the Hooke’s Law for an orthortropic material, with the strain matrix on the left equal to the compliance matrix by the stress matrix on the right. The large compliance matrix in the middle is composed of three elastic modulii (E), Poisson’s ratios (v) and shear modulii (G) that need to be determined experimentally.
Hooke's Law for Orthotropic Materials (Compliance Form)
Hooke’s Law for Orthotropic Materials (Compliance Form)

Good agreement between numerical and experimental results can be achieved using orthotropic properties when the structures being modeled are simple rectangular structures with uniaxial loading states. In addition to require extensive testing to collect this data set (as shown in this 2007 Master’s thesis), this approach does have a few limitations. Like the isotropic assumption, it is only valid for the specific set of build parameters that were used to manufacture the test samples from which the data was initially obtained. Additionally, since the model has no explicit sense of layers and inter-layer effects, it is unlikely to perform well at stresses leading up to failure, especially for complex loading conditions.  This was shown in a 2010 paper that demonstrated these limitations  in the analysis of a bracket that itself was built in three different orientations. The authors concluded however that there was good agreement at low loads and deflections for all build directions, and that the margin of error as load increased varied across the three build orientations.

An FDM bracket modeled with Orthotropic properties compared to experimentally observed results
An FDM bracket modeled with Orthotropic properties compared to experimentally observed results
  • Laminar Composite Theory: The FDM process results in structures that are very similar to laminar composites, with a stack of plies consisting of individual fibers/filaments laid down next to each other. The only difference is the absence of a matrix binder – in the FDM process, the filaments fuse with neighboring filaments to form a meso-structure. As shown in this 2014 project report, a laminar approach allows one to model different ply raster angles that are not possible with the orthotropic approach. This is exciting because it could expand insight into optimizing raster angles for optimum performance of a part, and in theory reduce the experimental datasets needed to develop models. At this time however, there is very limited data validating predicted values against experiments. ANSYS and other software that have been designed for composite modeling (see image below from ANSYS Composite PrepPost) can be used as starting points to explore this space.
Schematic of a laminate build-up as analyzed in ANSYS Composite PrepPost
Schematic of a laminate build-up as analyzed in ANSYS Composite PrepPost
  • Hybrid Tool-path Composite Representation: One of the limitations of the above approach is that it does not model any of the details within the layer. As we saw in part 1 of this post, each layer is composed of tool-paths that leave behind voids and curvature errors that could be significant in simulation, particularly in failure modeling. Perhaps the most promising approach to modeling FDM parts is to explicitly link tool-path information in the build software to the analysis software. Coupling this with existing composite simulation is another potential idea that would help reduce computational expense. This is an idea I have captured below in the schematic that shows one possible way this could be done, using ANSYS Composite PrepPost as an example platform.
Potential approach to blending toolpath information with composite analysis software
Potential approach to blending toolpath information with composite analysis software

Discussion: At the present moment, the orthotropic approach is perhaps the most appropriate method for modeling parts since it is allows some level of build orientation optimization, as well as for meaningful design comparisons and comparison to bulk properties one may expect from alternative technologies such as injection molding. However, as the application of FDM in end-use parts increases, the demands on simulation are also likely to increase, one of which will involve representing these materials more accurately than continuum solids.