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!

Additive Manufacturing and the Navy SBIR Program – brought to you by RevAZ, AZ Commerce Authority, and PADT

RevAZ-ACA-PADT-Logos-1

Learn more about the Navy Sea SBIR Program from Jonathan Leggett, the NAVSEA SBIR Program Manager, about how AZ Manufacturers can use SBIR Grants to assist in funding R&D early stage innovation.  Jonathan will also review the Navy’s roadmap on additive manufacturing and 3D printing.  There will be 15 minute one-on-one sessions from 1:30 – 4:00 to answer your specific questions with:

  • Jonathan Leggett, NAVSEA SBIR Outreach Program Manager
  • Dave Garafano, ACA Executive Director of RevAZ
  • Jill HowardAllen, ACA Manger of Technology Commercialization & SBIR Programming

Register Now!

Who Should Attend?

  • Small to Medium Sized Businesses – (500 or less)manufacturers interested in learning how the SBIR/STTR program may assist them in commercializing their early stage innovation.
  • Large & Medium Sized Businesses and/or 3rd Party Investors – Those seeking to partners with the SBIR/STTR small businesses to (a) establish the requirements and specification for the proposed outcomes; and (b) provide financial resources and collaboration for commercializing the results
  • University/Institute Faculty and Staff – Those seeking consulting and partnering opportunities with the small business on the SBIR/STTR grant

When: April 7
10:00-12:00 – Navy SBIR Overview & Navy
Additive Manufacturing Technology Roadmap
1:30- 4:00 – 15 Minute 1:1 Sessions with Jonathan Leggett

Where: PADT
7755 S Research Dr.
Suite 120
Tempe, AZ 85284

Please Register to Reserve your Spot!

Direct any questions to Jill HowardAllen at JillH@azcommerce.com or call 602 845 1291.

PADT is honored to be hosting the event and taking part in the training.

Ovid: A Teaching Tool for 3D Printing

ovid-1-1Meet Ovid.  He is a very simple character that we use to explain 3D Printing to kids. Explaining how 3D Printing works to anyone without a technical background can be tough. To help out PADT has created a collection of resources that shows how it is done, including a hands on model for younger kids, that feature Ovid as the object being printed.

Let’s start by getting technical.  3D Printing is a common term for a class of manufacturing methods referred to as Additive Manufacturing.  In 3D Printing you take a computer model and you print it out to get a real world three dimensional object. The way we do it is that we slice the computer model into thin layers, then build up material in the 3D printer one layer at a time.  Here is a simple GIF showing the most common process:

FDM-Animation.gif

This is Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM. If a classroom has a 3D Printer it is most likely an FDM printer.

The idea behind these resources is to show the process:

  1. Start with a 3D Computer model
  2. Slice it
  3. Build it one layer at a time

The materials below can be used by parents or teachers to explain things to kids, K-8. Please use freely and share!

Presentation

This PowerPoint has slides that explain the 3D Printing process and the video is of the slides being presented, with our narration.

PowerPoint: Ovid-Presentation-3D_Printing

Making a Hands-On Ovid

ovid-model-3Our fun little plexiglass model of Ovid is an example of a manual 3D printing process. Students can stack up the layers to “3D Print” their own Ovid by hand, reinforcing the layered manufacturing process.

We did everything the same as a real 3D Printer, but instead of automatically stacking the layers, we cut each layer on a laser cutter and the students do the cutting.

Here is a video showing the laser cutting.

And this is a zip file containing the geometry we used to make Ovid in STEP, IGES, Parasolid, and SAT.

To put it all together we created a triangular rod with a base and height that are identical.  Figure out the size you need once you have scaled the geometry for your version of Ovid. we glued the rod to a base.

ovid-model-1 ovid-model-4 ovid-model-2

Files for 3D Printing and Other Information

If you have access to a 3D Printer, you can print your own Ovid.  Here is an STL and a Parasolid: Ovid-PADT-3D_Printing-1

We also have a video showing how the software for the printer slices the geometry and makes the tool path for each layer:

And to round things out, here is a few minutes of Ovid being made in one of our Stratasys FDM printers:

MD+DI: 3-D Printing Applications Changing Healthcare

md+di-logo-13-D Printing is having a significant impact on healthcare technology. In “3-D Printing Applications Changing Healthcare” PADT’s Dhruv Bhate gives real world examples of how this technology is enabling never-before-seen breakthroughs.

 

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!

Webinar Content: Answers to your Questions on Metal 3D Printing

Download a recording and the slides from this this informative webinar.

3d-metal-printing-webinar-slide-1Metal Additive Manufacturing, or Metal 3D Printing, is a topic that generates a lot of interest, and even more questions.  So we held a webinar on February 9th, 2016 to try and answer the most common questions we encounter. It was a huge success with over 150 people logging in to watch live.  But many of you could not make it so we have put the slides and a recording of the webinar out there.  Just go to this link to access the information.

The presentation answered the fllowing common questions:

  • Introductory:
    • Who are PADT and Concept Laser?
    • How does laser-based metal 3D printing work?
    • Are there other ways to 3D print in metal and how do they compare?
  • Technical:
    • What are the different process steps involved?
    • How “good” are 3D printed metal parts?
  • Strategic:
    • What materials and machines do you offer?
    • Who uses this technology today?
    • What is the value proposition of metal 3D printing for me?
    • What can I do after this webinar?

As always, our technical team is available to answer any additional questions you may have. Just shoot an email to metal-am@padtinc.com or give us a call at 480.813.4884.

3d-metal-printing-webinar-slide-23d-metal-printing-webinar-slide-3

Phoenix Business Journal: The real reason 3D printing is important

pbj-phoenix-business-journal-logo

In all the hoopla around 3D Printing the real reason why it is important often gets lost. Check out this article to learn “The real reason 3D printing is important” to wrap your head around the long term impact of this key technology. PB

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

And the Best Conference Award Goes To …..

AADM Expo

At PADT, we’re as big of a fan as anyone of the cool, trendy software and IT companies that run up billion dollar valuations in Silicon Valley and keep us all entertained and productive with their latest apps and platforms.

But as an engineering product and services company, we’re hardware geeks at heart and one of our favorite conferences is coming up quick. It’s the Aerospace, Aviation, Defense and Manufacturing (AADM) Conference hosted by the Arizona Technology Council and Arizona Commerce Authority on March 3 at the Hilton Scottsdale Resort.

Arizona has a rich history in this sector. TechAmerica’s 2014 Cyberstates Report ranks Arizona fourth nationwide for jobs in the space and defense systems manufacturing industry, employing more than 8,300 people.  Industry giants such as Raytheon, Honeywell, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics all have a big presence here. Luke Air Force Base, Fort Huachuca and the Yuma Proving Ground all provide ideal places for testing and flying in our cloudless skies and more than 300 days of sunshine.

When you look at manufacturing, you’ll find thousands of varied companies located here that are propelling Arizona’s economy into the next era of growth. Industries leaders such as Intel, Microchip, and Frito Lay all have significant Arizona operations.

Now in its fifth year, this conference has become the gathering place for Arizona’s AADM industry. You’ll not only have a chance to hear what the big companies are up to, you’ll meet potential suppliers and customers during the interesting presentations and well-attended cocktail reception. And for as little as $750 you can get a booth space and two conference tickets – that’s a deal you won’t find in New York City! The traffic at our booth always keeps us hopping and give us the opportunity to capture great leads.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, get on it, check out the sponsorships and  register now. And don’t forget to stop by the PADT booth. We’ll show you how we make innovation work!

AZ Tech Beat Video: Tips on Building an Investor-Worthy Prototype

AZ-Tech-Beat-LogoHave an idea for a product and feel like you need a prototype.Tishin Donkersley  from the Arizona Tech Beat asked me over to their offices to do a short interview and share some pointers on the subject.  Take a look at the result here.

I talk about trends in the 3D Printing world that impact startups who have a need for prototypes, and share a few pointers on getting a prototype made.

AZTechBeat-Eric-Interview-prototype

While you are there, take a look around the sight.  AZ Tech Beat is one of the best places to find out what is going on in the Arizona Tech Community as well as in tech in general.   I especially like their gadget updates.

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

Webinar: PADT Answers your Questions on Metal 3D Printing

Direct Laser Melting systems have made fantastic improvements in the last five years or so, making 3D Printing of metal parts a reality.  The accuracy and strength of the finished parts rivals cast parts in the same material, but with the advantages of Freeform Fabrication.  In fact, everywhere we go, people have questions about Metal 3D Printing.

So we decided to hold a webinar to answer those questions all at once.  Our manufacturing team, lead by Dhruv Bhate, PhD, will share with you what we have learned while working to develop our own metal 3D Printing capability and while consulting with many of our customers as they acquired their own systems.

metal-3d-printing-4When: February 9, 2016
11:00 am MST / 10:00 am PST

If you would like to attend, or would like to receive a link to a recording of the event, please register here.

 

We look forward to sharing this exciting information with all of you.

FraunhoferIWU_Hip_Implant_1417x1044 Toolcraft_Shroud_1417x1044

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.

Constitutive Modeling of 3D Printed FDM Parts: Part 1 (Challenges)

As I showed in a prior blog post, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is increasingly being used to make functional plastic parts in the aerospace industry. All functional parts have an expected performance that they must sustain during their lifetime. Ensuring this performance is attained is crucial for aerospace components, but important in all applications. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) is an important predictor of part performance in a wide range of indusrties, but this is not straightforward for the simulation of FDM parts due to difficulties in accurately representing the material behavior in a constitutive model. In part 1 of this article, I list some of the challenges in the development of constitutive models for FDM parts. In part 2, I will discuss possible approaches to addressing these challenges while developing constitutive models that offer some value to the analyst.

It helps to first take a look at the fundamental multi-scale structure of an FDM part. A 2002 paper by Li et. al. details the multi-scale structure of an FDM part as it is built up from individually deposited filaments all the way to a three-dimensional part as shown in the image below.

Multiscale structure of an FDM part
Multiscale structure of an FDM part

This multi-scale structure, and the deposition process inherent to FDM, make for 4 challenges that need to be accounted for in any constitutive modeling effort.

  • Anisotropy: The first challenge is clear from the above image – FDM parts have different structure depending on which direction you look at the part from. Their layered structure is more akin to composites than traditional plastics from injection molding. For ULTEM-9085, which is one of the high temperature polymers available from Stratasys, the datasheets clearly show a difference in properties depending on the orientation the part was built in, as seen in the table below with some select mechanical properties.
Stratasys ULTEM 9085 datasheet material properties showing anisotropy
Stratasys ULTEM 9085 datasheet material properties showing anisotropy
  • Toolpath Definition: In addition to the variation in material properties that arise from the layered approach in the FDM process, there is significant variation possible within a layer in terms of how toolpaths are defined: this is essentially the layout of how the filament is deposited. Specifically, there are at least 4 parameters in a layer as shown in the image below (filament width, raster to raster air gap, perimeter to raster air gap and the raster angle). I compiled data from two sources (Stratasys’ data sheet and a 2011 paper by Bagsik et al that show how for ULTEM 9085, the Ultimate Tensile Strength varies as a function of not just build orientation, but also as a function of the parameter settings – the yellow bars show the best condition the authors were able to achieve against the orange and gray bars that represent the default settings in the tool.  The blue bar represents the value reported for injection molded ULTEM 9085.
Ultimate Tensile Strength of FDM ULTEM 9085 for three different build orientations, compared to injection molded value (84 MPa) for two different data sources, and two different process parameter settings from the same source. On the right are shown the different orientations and process parameters varied.
Ultimate Tensile Strength of FDM ULTEM 9085 for three different build orientations, compared to injection molded value (84 MPa) for two different data sources, and two different process parameter settings from the same source. On the right are shown the different orientations and process parameters varied.
  • Layer Thickness: Most FDM tools offer a range of layer thicknesses, typical values ranging from 0.005″ to 0.013″. It is well known that thicker layers have greater strength than thinner ones. Thinner layers are generally used when finer feature detail or smoother surfaces are prioritized over out-of-plane strength of the part. In fact, Stratasys’s values above are specified for the default 0.010″ thickness layer only.
  • Defects: Like all manufacturing processes, improper material and machine performance and setup and other conditions may lead to process defects, but those are not ones that constitutive models typically account for. Additionally and somewhat unique to 3D printing technologies, interactions of build sheet and support structures can also influence properties, though there is little understanding of how significant these are. There are additional defects that arise from purely geometric limitations of the FDM process, and may influence properties of parts, particularly relating to crack initiation and propagation. These were classified by Huang in a 2014 Ph.D. thesis as surface and internal defects.
    • Surface defects include the staircase error shown below, but can also come from curve-approximation errors in the originating STL file.
    • Internal defects include voids just inside the perimeter (at the contour-raster intersection) as well as within rasters. Voids around the perimeter occur either due to normal raster curvature or are attributable to raster discontinuities.
FDM Defects: Staircase error (top), Internal defects (bottom)
FDM Defects: Staircase error (top), Internal defects (bottom)

Thus, any constitutive model for FDM that is to accurately predict a part’s response needs to account for its anisotropy, be informed by the specifics of the process parameters that were involved in creating the part and ensure that geometric non-idealities are comprehended or shown to be insignificant. In my next blog post, I will describe a few ways these challenges can be addressed, along with the pros and cons of each approach.

Click here to see part 2 of this post