ANSYS ACT Console Snippets

So this is just a quick post to point out a handy feature in ANSYS Workbench, the ACT Console. There are times when you want some functionality in Mechanical that just is not yet there. In this example, a customer wanted the ability to get a text list of all the Named Selections in his model.  A quick Python script does just that.

import string,re

a=ExtAPI.DataModel.AnalysisList[0]  #Get the first Analysis if multiple are present 
workingdir=a.WorkingDir 
path=workingdir.split("\\\\") 

#Put the output file in the "user_files" directory for the project. 
userdir=string.join(path[:len(path)-4],"\\\\")+"\\\\user_files"  

#Use the name of the system in case the snippet is 
#used on multiple independent systems in the project. 
system_name=re.sub(" ","_",a.Name)  
model = ExtAPI.DataModel.Project.Model 
nsels = model.NamedSelections                  #Get the list of Named Selections 

if nsels:    #Do this if there are any Named Selections
     f=open("%s\\\\%s_named_selections_checked.txt"%(userdir,system_name), "w") 
     for child in nsels.Children:
        f.write("%s\n"%child.Name)
     f.close()

So to use a piece of Python code, like this, we use the ACT Console in Mechanical. To access the ACT Console in Mechanical 17.0, or later, just hit this icon in the toolbar.

The Console allows you to type, or paste, text directly into the black command line at the bottom.  But if we are going to reuse this code, then the use of Snippets is the way to go. In R17.0 they were called ‘Bookmarks’, but they worked the same way.

When you add a Snippet, a new window allows you to name the snippet and type in, or paste in, your code.

When you hit Apply, your named snippet is added to the list

From then on, to use the snippet you just click on it, and hit ‘Enter’. The text is basically, repasted into the command window, so you can set any variables needed prior to hitting your snippet.

The snippets are persistent and remain in the console, so they are available for all new projects. Using snippets is a great way to reduce time for repetitive tasks, without having to create a full blown ACT extension.

Happy coding!

Phoenix Business Journal: ​Making a statement about who you are in a digital, shared world

In our new modern world, much has changed. We are more connected and more mobile, working anywhere we need to.  And with the emergence of the sharing economy we are letting others drive us and staying in other people’s homes.  This impacts a lot of things in our lives, but one major input is that “​Making a statement about who you are in a digital, shared world” is very different.  Take a look at this post and think about it.  How do you share who you are?

Getting to Know PADT: Simulation Services

This is the fourth installment in our review of all the different products and services PADT offers our customers. As we add more, they will be available here.  As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to info@padtinc.com or give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT.

The A in PADT actually stands for Analysis.  Back in 1994 when the company was started, computer modeling for mechanical engineering was called Analysis. It was such an important part of what we wanted to achieve that we put it in the name.  Unfortunately, Analysis was a bit to generic so the industry switched to Numerical Simulation, or simply simulation. In the 23 years since we started, analysis… sorry, simulation, has been not just a foundation for what PADT does for our customers, it has become a defacto tool in product development.  Through it all there has been a dedicated group here that is focused on providing the best simulation as a service to customers around the world.

Driving Designs with Simulation

Many companies know about PADT with regards to simulation because we are an ANSYS Elite Channel Partner – selling and supporting the entire suite of ANSYS simulation tools in the Southwestern US. The success of simulation in the design and development of physical products is a direct result of the fact that these fantastic tools from ANSYS can be used to drive the design of products.  This can be done in-house by companies designing the products, or outsourced to experts. And that is where PADT has come in for hundreds of customers around the world.  The expertise we use to support and train on ANSYS products derives directly from our real world experience providing CFD, structural, thermal, electromagnetic, and multiphysics simulations to help those customers drive their product development.

For those not familiar with simulation, or who only use the basic tools embedded in CAD software as a quick check, understanding why it is so important hinges on understand what it really is. Numerical Simulation is a methodology where a physical product is converted into a computer model that represents its physical behavior.  This behavior can be many different physics: stresses, vibration, fluid flow, temperature flow, high frequency electromagnetic radiation, sloshing of liquids, deformation during impact, piezoelectric response, heating from static electromagnetic waves, cooling from air flow. The list goes on and on. Pretty much anything you studied in physics can be modeled using a numerical simulation.

The process of doing the simulation consists of taking the physical object and breaking it into discrete chunks, often very small relative to the size of the object, so that equations can easily be written for each chunk that describes the physical behavior of that chunk relative to the chunks around it.  Imagine writing equations for the fluid flow in a complicated valve housing, very hard to do. But if you break it up into about one million small polyhedrons, you can write an equation for flow in and out of each polyhedron. These equations are then assembled into a giant matrix and solved using linear algebra.  That is why we need such large computers.  We mostly use the world’s leading software for this, from ANSYS, Inc.

More than Building and Running Models

Knowing how to build and run finite element and CFD models is key to providing simulation as a service. PADT’s team averages over 18 years of experience and few people come close to their knowledge on geometry preparation, meshing, setting up loads and boundary conditions, leveraging the advantages of each solver, and post processing. That is a good starting point. But what really sets PADT apart is the understanding of how the simulation fits into product development, and how the information gathered from simulation can and should be used.  Instead of providing a number or a plot, PADT’s experienced engineers deliver insight into the behavior of the products being simulated.

How each project is conducted is also something that customers keep coming back for.  Nothing is ever “thrown over the wall” our passed through a “black box.” From quote through delivery of final report, PADT’s engineers work closely with the customer’s engineers to understand requirements, get to the heart of what the customer is looking for, and deliver useful and actionable information.  And if you have your own in-house simulation team, we will work closely with them to help them understand what we did so they can add it to their capabilities. In fact, one of the most popular simulation services offered by PADT is automation of the simulation process with software tools written on top of ANSYS products.  This is a fantastic way to leverage PADT’s experience and knowledge to make your engineers more efficient and capable.

Unparalleled Breadth and Depth

Based on feedback from our customers, the other area where PADT really stands out is in the incredible breadth and depth of capability offered.  Whereas most service providers specialize in one type of simulation or a single industry, more than twenty years of delivering high-end simulation to evaluate hundreds of products has given PADT’s team a unique and special level of understanding and expertise. From fluid flow in aerospace cooling systems to electromagnetics for an antenna in a smart toy, a strong theoretical understanding is combined with knowledge about the software tools to apply the right approach to each unique problem.

No where is this breadth and depth exemplified than with PADT’s relationship with ANSYS, Inc. Since the company was founded, PADT engineers have worked closely with ANSYS development and product management to understand these powerful tools better and to offer their advice on how to make them better.  And each time ANSYS, Inc. develops or acquires a new capability, that same team steps up and digs deep into the functionality that has been added. And when necessary, adding new engineers to the team to offer our customers the same expert access to these new tools.

 

The best way to understand why hundreds of companies, many of them large corporations that are leaders in their industry, come to PADT from around the world for their simulation services needs is to talk to us about your simulation services needs. Regardless of the industry or the physics, our team is ready to help you drive your product development with simulation. Contact us now to start the discussion.

 

How ANSYS Helped Us View the Solar Eclipse

Here in the Phoenix area, we weren’t treated to the full total eclipse that others in the USA got to see.  Our maximum coverage of the sun was a bit over 60%.  Still, there was an eclipse buzz in the PADT headquarters and although we had some rare clouds for a few minutes, the skies did part and we did get to view the partial eclipse from the parking lot.

So, how did ANSYS help us view the eclipse?  It was in an indirect way – via a pinhole camera I made from an old ANSYS installation software box.  The software box, a hobby knife to cut out a viewing port, a couple of post-it notes to allow for a small hole and a clear projection area, and a thumb tack were all that was needed, along with a couple of minutes to modify the box.

 

Here we can see the viewing port cut into the software box.  On the opposite side is a pin hole to allow the sun’s light to enter the box.

After heading out to the eclipsing grounds (the parking lot), we quickly lined up the pin hole and the projection screen and got our views of the partially obscured sun:

Here is a close up of the sun’s image projected inside the box:

Others viewing the eclipse here at PADT HQ had a range of filters, eclipse glasses, etc.  With the projection method as shown above, though, we don’t have to worry about eye damage.  So, in a way, ANSYS did help us view the eclipse safely, by providing a box that was easy to convert to a pinhole camera.

While we enjoyed the partial eclipse here in Arizona, we did have a couple of PADT colleagues in the path of totality.  Here is a picture from one of my coworkers who viewed the eclipse in South Carolina:

We hope you enjoyed the eclipse as well, either in person or via images on the web.  We’re looking forward to the next one!

Finally, In case you missed an earlier astronomical rarity back in 2012, here is a photo of the planet Venus transiting in front of the sun’s disk (black dot on the left side).  The next one of these won’t be until December, 2117.

 

Phoenix Business Journal: ​Building tomorrow’s science and technology leaders with Arizona’s Pioneering Chief Science Officer program

There is a great STEM program here in Arizona called the “Chief Science Officer” that is backed by the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Technology Council.  In “Building tomorrow’s science and technology leaders with Arizona’s Pioneering Chief Science Officer program” I go over some highlights on how they take kids interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and help them become leaders in their schools and advocates for better STEM education.

Phoenix Business Journal: ​Taking time to be thankful for being able to do this engineering thing

Not a lot of people have the same advantage that I do, I have a profession that I really like. Being an engineer is fascinating and a true pleasure because engineering is hard, and when smart people do it right it is so interesting and exciting. It is about the process and figuring stuff out – like a solving good puzzle, but better. Learn more about why I like what I do in “Taking time to be thankful for being able to do this engineering thing

Phoenix Business Journal: ​You will be shocked when you read what this technology expert has to say

I don’t like clickbait.  It undermines the trust between information provider and consumer, and I think it needs to stop. Take a look at “You will be shocked when you read what this technology expert has to say” where I go on a bit more and channel my inner Andy Rooney.  Id does also include some recommendations on how we as content users can make a difference.

The Advantages of Leveraging HPC with Nimbix – Webinar

Simulation has become even more prevalent in the world of engineering than it was even 5 years ago. Commercial tools have gotten significantly easier to use, whether you are looking at tools embedded within CAD programs or the standalone flagship analysis tools. The driving force behind these changes are to ultimately let engineers and companies understand their design quicker and with more fidelity than before.

High Performance Computing (HPC) has proven to be critical for simulation tools like ANSYS thanks to its ability to help engineers perform a wider range of analyses faster than ever before. PADT is proud to be working with Nimbix, the creators of an award winning HPC platform developed for enterprises and end users who demand performance and ease of use in their process.

Join Nimbix Application & Sales Engineer Adil Noor, and PADT’s Lead Application Engineer, Manoj Mahendran, for a discussion on the benefits of leveraging HPC and Cloud Computing for simulation, along with a look at how PADT has deployed ANSYS on the Nimbix platform.

From this webinar you will learn about:

  • The benefits of using Cloud Computing
  • The capabilities of HPC with ANSYS
  • The advantages Nimbix provides and why PADT leverages them for HPC

This webinar will be taking place on: 
 
Wednesday August 23rd, from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM MST 
 
Don’t miss this opportunity, register and secure your place today!

Introducing the Stratasys J750 – Webinar

Introducing the Stratasys J750 – Webinar

August 30th, 2017 – 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM MST

The Stratasys J750 3D printer delivers unavailed aesthetic performance including true, full-color capability with the texture mapping and color gradients. Create prototypes that look, feel and operate like finished products, without the need for painting or assembly, thanks to the Stratasys J750’s wide range of material properties.

With this, students can easily experience both the prototyping and testing stages of the manufacturing process, helping to prepare them for what they will experience once they enter the workforce. The high quality materials available with the J750 also allow for the creation of highly intricate and realistic models, perfect for helping medical students with research.

The wide color spectrum, combined with the fine-finish, multi-material capability, let’s the Stratasys J750 produce parts with an incredible array of characteristics. Prototypes that need to look, feel and function like future products are possible in a single print operation, with minimal to no finishing steps, like painting, sanding or assembly.

With such an innovative machine comes a variety of user applications, such as:

  • Image Rapid Prototyping
  • Concept Models
  • Medical Models
  • Jigs & Fixtures
  • Colored Textures

Join PADT’s Sales executive Jeff Nichols and 3D Printing Application Engineer James Barker from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM MST AZ for an in depth look at how the Stratasys J750 stacks up against it’s competition, and how it’s various attributes help to make it the perfect fit for institutions such as yours!

 

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to bring the future of manufacturing into your classroom or workplace, secure your spot today!

  

Phoenix Business Journal: 4 simple suggestions to deal with all those unread emails

We have all been there. You get back from vacation and you have eight hundred unread emails.  For a lot of us we never actually make our way through them all. In “4 simple suggestions to deal with all those unread emails” I cover some ways to get through that pile and get back to being productive.  If you like it… don’t email me.

Topological Optimization in ANSYS 18.1 – Motorcycle Component Example

We’ve discussed topological optimization in this space before, notably here:

If you’re not familiar with topological or topology optimization, a simple description is that we are using the physics of the problem combined with the finite element computational method to decide what the optimal shape is for a given design space and set of loads and constraints. Typically our goal is to maximize stiffness while reducing weight. We may also be trying to keep maximum stress below a certain value. Frequencies can come into play as well by linking a modal analysis to a topology optimization.

Why is topology optimization important? First, it produces shapes which may be more optimal than we could determine by engineering intuition coupled with trial and error. Second, with the rise of additive manufacturing, it is now much easier and more practical to produce the often complex and organic looking shapes which come out of a topological optimization.

ANSYS, Inc. has really upped the game when it comes to utilizing topology optimization. Starting with version 18.0, topo opt is built in functionality within ANSYS. If you already know ANSYS Mechanical, you already know the tool that’s used. The ANSYS capability uses the proven ANSYS solvers, including HPC capability for efficient solves. Another huge plus is the fact that SpaceClaim is linked right in to the process, allowing us to much more easily make the optimized mesh shape produced by a topological optimization into a more CAD representation set for use in validation simulations, 3D printing, or traditional manufacturing.

The intent of this blog is to show the current process in ANSYS version 18.1 using a simple example of an idealized motorcycle front fork bracket optimization. We don’t claim to be experts on motorcycle design, but we do want to showcase what the technology can do with a simple example. We start with a ‘blob’ or envelope for the geometry of our design space, then perform an optimization based on an assumed set of loads the system will experience. Next we convert the optimized mesh information into solid geometry using ANSYS SpaceClaim, and then perform a validation study on the optimized geometry.

Here we show our starting point – an idealized motorcycle fork with a fairly large blob of geometry. The intent is to let ANSYS come up with an optimal shape for the bracket connecting the two sides of the fork.

The first step of the simulation in this case is a traditional Static Structural simulation within ANSYS Workbench. The starting point for the geometry was ANSYS SpaceClaim, but the initial geometry could have come from any geometry source that ANSYS can read in, meaning most CAD systems as well as Parasolid, SAT, and STEP neutral file formats.
A single set of loads can be used, or multiple load cases can be defined. That’s what we did here, to simulate various sets of loads that the fork assembly might experience during optimization. All or a portion of the load cases can be utilized in the topological optimization, and weighting factors can be used on each set of loads if needed.
Here we see the workflow in the ANSYS Workbench Project Schematic:

Block A is the standard static structural analysis on the original, starting geometry. This includes all load cases needed to describe the operating environment. Block B is the actual topological optimization. Block C is a validation study, performed on the optimized geometry. This step is needed to ensure that the optimized shape still meets our design intent.

Within the topology optimization, we set our objective. He we choose minimizing compliance, which is a standard terminology in topology optimization and we can think of it as the inverse which is maximizing stiffness.

In the static structural analysis, 7 load cases were used to describe different loading situations on the motorcycle fork, and here all have been used in the optimization.
Further, we defined a response constraint, which in this example is to reduce mass (actually retain 15% of the mass):

Another quantity that’s often useful to specify is a minimum member constraint. That will keep the topology optimization from making regions that are too small to 3D print or otherwise manufacture. Here we have specified a minimum member size of 0.3 inches:

Since the topological optimization solution uses the same ANSYS solvers for the finite element solution as a normal solution, we can leverage high performance computing (distributed solvers, typically) to speed up the solution process. Multiple iterations are needed to converge on the topology optimization, so realize that the topo opt process is going to be more computationally expensive than a normal solution.

Once the optimization is complete, we can view the shape the topo opt method has obtained:

Notice that only a portion of the original model has been affected. ANSYS allows us to specify which regions of the model are to be considered for optimization, and which are to be excluded.

Now that we have a shape that looks promising, we still need to perform a validation step, in which we rerun our static simulation with the loads and constraints we expect the fork assembly to experience. To do that, we really want a ‘CAD’ model of the optimized shape. The images shown above show the mesh information that results from the topo opt solution. What we need to do next is leverage the ANSYS SpaceClaim geometry tool to create a solid model from the optimized shape.
A simple beauty in the ANSYS process is that with just a couple of clicks we proceed from Block B to Block C in the Workbench project schematic, and can then work with the optimized shape in SpaceClaim.

As you can see in the above image, SpaceClaim automatically has the original geometry as well as the new, optimized shape. We can do as much or as little to the optimized shape as we need, from smoothing and simplification to adding manufacturing features such as holes, bosses, etc. In this case we simply shrink wrapped it as-is.
Continuing with the validation step, the geometry from SpaceClaim automatically opens in the Mechanical window and we can then re-apply the needed loads and constraints and then solve to determine if the optimized shape truly meets our design objectives. If not, we can make some tweaks and run again.

The above image shows a result plot from the validation step. The geometry efficiently comes through SpaceClaim from the optimization step to the validation step. The needed tools are all nicely contained within ANSYS.

Hopefully this has given you an idea of what can be done with topology optimization in ANSYS as well as how it’s done. Again, if you already know ANSYS Mechanical, you already know the bulk of how to do this. If not, then perhaps what you have seen here will spark a craving to learn. We can’t wait to see what you create.

DustRam: A Great Example of Using 3D Printing for Durable Production Parts

Nothing makes us happier here at PADT than seeing a customer be successful with technology we worked with them on. When Jack King of DustRam came to us for a prototype for a part on his dust free tile removal product it was just the start of a fantastic journey that showed off the power of 3D Printing.  After a few iterations Jack was able to replace his expensive and long lead metal mouthpiece with a plastic one that he could manufacture on demand in his own shop using his Stratasys 3D Printer.

It was such a great story that two publications were interested and wrote far better writeups than I could.

The first is interesting because it is an industry trade magazine for people in the floor installation business. Their perspective is refreshing for those of us who live in the engineering world, getting more into the practical application of the product:

http://digital.bnpmedia.com/publication/?i=422744#{“issue_id”:422744,”page”:52}

This was preceded by a fantastic article in Additive Manufacturing magazine that gets more into the technical side:

http://www.additivemanufacturing.media/articles/3d-printed-device-proves-rugged-enough-for-dust-free-tile-removal-

If you want to learn more about how you can use additive manufacturing to produce yout production hardware, contact us today.

 

Distributed ANSYS 18.1 with the SP-5 Benchmark using an INTEL 1.6TB NVMe

I recently had a chance to run a series of benchmarks on one of our latest CUBE numerical simulation workstations. I was amazed by the impressive benchmark numbers and wanted to share with you the details for the SP-5 benchmark using ANSYS 18.1. Hopefully this information will help you make the best decision the next time you need to upgrade your numerical simulation C Drive from whatever to now is the time to buy a Non-Volitile Memory Express drive. Total speedup using identical CUBE hardware, except for the INTEL DC P3700 NVMe drive @32 Cores is a 1.19x speedup!

  • Time Spent Computing Solution ANSYS SP-5 Benchmark
    • 161.7 seconds vs. 135.6 second
    • ANSYS 17.1 & ANSYS 18.1 Benchmarks

The link below is to a great article that I think will catch you up to speed regarding NVMe, PCIe and SSD Technology.

HDD Magazine hints NVME is coming, I say NVMe is already here…

CUBE w32iP Specifications (July 2017)

  • CUBE Mid-Tower Super Quiet Chassis (900W PS)
  • CPU: 32 INTEL Cores – 2 x INTEL e5-2697A V4 32c@2.6GHz/3.6GHz Turbo
  • OS: INTEL NVMe – 1 x 1.6TB INTEL Enterprise Class SSD
  • Mid-Term Storage: – 1 x 10TB Enterprise Class SATA 6Gbp/s, 256M, Helium sealed
  • RAM: 256GB DDR4-2400MHz LRDIMM RAM
  • GRAPHICS: NVIDIA QUADRO P6000 (24GB GDDR5X RAM)
  • MEDIA: DVD-RW/Audio 7.1 HD
  • Windows 10 Professional

Just how much faster the INTEL NVME drive performs over previously run ANSYS Benchmarks?

Check out the data for yourself:

  1. ANSYS 17.1 – SP-5 Benchmarks
  2. ANSYS Website
  3. HPC Advisory Council
  • ANSYS Benchmark Test Case Information.
  • ANSYS HPC Licensing Packs required for this benchmark
    • I used (2) HPC Packs to unlock all 32 cores.
  • 1.19x Total Speedup!
  • Please contact your local ANSYS Software Sales Representative for more information on purchasing ANSYS HPC Packs. You too may be able to speed up your solve times by unlocking additional compute power!
  • What is a CUBE? For more information regarding our Numerical Simulation workstations and clusters please contact our CUBE Hardware Sales Representative at SALES@PADTINC.COM
    • Designed, tested and configured within your budget. We are happy to help and to  listen to your specific needs.

ANSYS SP-5 Benchmark Details

BGA (V18sp-5)

Analysis Type Static Nonlinear Structural
Number of Degrees of Freedom 6,000,000
Equation Solver Sparse
Matrix Symmetric
 July 2017 TIME SPENT COMPUTING SOLUTION TOTAL CPU TIME FOR MAIN THREAD ELAPSED TIME
CUBE w32iP CUEB w32iP CUBE w32iP
# of Cores CUBE w32iP CUBE w32iP CUBE w32iP
2 1034.3 1073.7 1076
4 594.7 630.3 633
6 431.5 465.7 472
8 333.4 367.9 377
10 268.7 302.6 316
12 243.6 276.5 287
14 223 256.2 264
16 186.8 219.3 227
18 180 212.4 226
20 174.4 207.4 220
22 164.5 197.4 209
24 155.6 188.2 199
26 147.1 179.2 193
28 146.4 178.2 190
30 140.8 168.5 196
31 140.4 164 196
32 135.6 158.1 182
WO/GPU Acceleration WO/GPU Acceleration WO/GPU Acceleration

July 2017, drjm, PADT, Inc.

CUBE W32iP SP-5 Benchmark Graph

CUBE w32iP with INTEL DC P3700 1.6TB

Click Here for more information on the engineering simulation workstations and clusters designed in-house at PADT, Inc.. PADT, Inc. is happy to be a premier re-seller and dealer of Supermicro hardware.

Webinar: Additive Manufacturing & Simulation Driven Design, A Competitive Edge in Aerospace

PADT recently hosted the Aerospace & Defence Form, Arizona Chapter for a talk and a tour. The talk was on “Additive Manufacturing & Simulation Driven Design, A Competitive Edge in Aerospace” and it was very well received.  So well in fact, that we decided it would be good to go ahead and record it and share it. So here it is:

Aerospace engineering has changed in the past decades and the tools and process that are used need to change as well. In this presentation we talk about how Simulation and 3D Printing can be used across the product development process to gain a competitive advantage.  In this webinar PADT shares our experience in apply both critical technologies to aerospace. We talk about what has changed in the industry and why Simulation and Additive Manufacturing are so important to meeting the new challenges. We then go through five trends in each industry and keys to being successful with each trend.

If you are looking to implement 3D Printing (Additive Manufacturing) or any type of simulation for Aerospace, please contact us (info@padtinc.com) so we can work to understand your needs and help you find the right solutions.

 

Installing a Metal 3D Printer: Part 5 (Housekeeping)

Download all 5 parts of this series as a single PDF here.

This is my final post in our 5 part series discussing things we learned installing a metal 3D printer (specifically, a laser powder bed fusion machine). If you haven’t already done so, please read the previous posts using the links below.

If you prefer, you can register for a webinar to be held on July 26, 2017 @ 2pm EDT (US) where I will be summarizing all 5 parts of this blog series. Register by clicking on the image below:

Housekeeping may seem too minor a thing to dedicate a post to, but when it comes to metal 3D printing, this is arguably the single most important thing to do on a regular basis once the equipment, facilities, safety and environmental considerations are addressed up front. In this post, I list some of the activities specific to our Concept Laser MLab Cusing R machine that we do on a routine basis as indicative of the kinds of things that one needs to set aside time to do, in order to maintain a safe working environment. In this post, I break down the housekeeping into the 3D printer, the wet separator and the filter change.

1. The 3D Printer

All 3D printers need to be routinely cleaned, but for powder based metal 3D printers, this needs to be done after every build. Three steps need to be performed during cleaning of the printer:

  • Powder Retrieval: After the build, the powder is either still in the dose/feed chamber or not. All powder that is not in the dose chamber needs to be brushed to the overflow chamber for recycling. While it is possible to vacuum this powder, that is not recommended since it results in greater loss of powder and also increases the burden on cleaning the vacuum and creating wet waste.
  • Process Chamber Cleaning: The process chamber after a build gets covered with fine combustion particles (soot) that need to be wiped away, as shown in Figure 1. The recommendation is to do this cleaning using lint-free or clean room wipes moistened with an ammonia based cleaner like Windex Original.
  • Lens Cleaning: Special lens cleaning wipes are to be used to clean the protective lens that separates the chamber from the laser. Standard lens cleaning wipes can be used for this, in a gentle single-pass movement.

It is important to wear appropriate PPE and also NOT contaminate the lens. Improper or irregular cleaning will result in soot particles interfering in subsequent builds. Soot particles can occasionally seen in subsequent builds especially when the inert gas and the ventilator (circulating fan) are turned on – this is more likely to happen if the chamber is not routinely and properly cleaned.

Figure 1. Post-build cleaning of the 3D printer and required materials

2. Wet Separator

The wet separator (vacuum) sucks up stray powder and suspends it in a water column. The metal particles will descend to the bottom of the water column (as shown in Figure 2) and need to be routinely cleaned out. This cleaning procedure is recommended daily for reactive metals – failing this, the metal particles will weld themselves to the metal container and prove to be very difficult to scrape out. For non-reactive metals, a daily flush may be excessive (since this will add to the cost in terms of labor and disposal) and a weekly routine may be preferable for a wet separator that serves 1-2 machines.

To reduce the water needed to flush out the powder sludge at the bottom, a standard pump sprayer is very effective. Further reduction in water usage and disposal can be achieved by a filtration device such as the one developed by the folks at Kinetic Filtration.

Figure 2. Cleaning a wet separator

 

3. Filter Change

Filters need to be changed periodically as shown in Figure 3. A video below (set to start at the 2:58 mark) shows how the filter change is performed for our MLab, for a non-reactive metal, so I shall not describe the procedure further. A reactive metal alloy filter needs to be stored in water to passivate it at all times, even through disposal. Other OEMs recommend sand and other materials, so it is important to follow the specific instructions provided by your supplier for passivation.

Figure 3. Removing, passivating and disposing the filter

 

Summary

Good housekeeping for metal 3D printing is vital and more than just aesthetic – there is a modest chance that failing to follow your supplier’s instructions on one or more of the items above will result in a safety incident. This is especially true for reactive alloys, where filter changes are recommended after each build and wet separator clean on a daily basis.

Disclaimers

  • This is intended to supplement the supplier training you must receive before using the equipment and not meant to replace it – in case of conflicting information, your supplier’s training and equipment requirements override any discussion here. PADT and the author assume no legal responsibilities for any decisions or actions taken by the readers of this document.
  • My personal experience derives specifically from the use of Laser-based metal 3D printing tools, specifically Concept Laser’s MLab Cusing R equipment. I expect majority of this information to be of use to users of other laser based powder bed fusion metal systems and to a lesser extent to Electron Beam systems, but have no personal experience to vouch for this.

~

Final Thoughts

This concludes my 5-part post on what we learned installing a metal 3D printer. If you have any thoughts on the content or would like to discuss this subject further, please let me know by messaging me on LinkedIn or by sending an email to info@padtinc.com, citing this blog post. I will be happy to include any suggestions in my posts with due credit.

Thank you for reading – I hope this has added value to the discussion on safely and effectively advancing metal 3D printing technology.