Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) Additive Manufacturing Service is Back on Line at PADT

sls-sinterstation-padt-2Everyone needs a vacation. After over 15 years of service our Sinterstation 2500Plus needed some facility upgrades  and machine updates. That work is now done and our SLS system is back up and running and better than ever, producing parts for customers who have come to count on its unique capabilities.

sls-housing-bracket-1Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a process that uses a high power laser to fuse a bed of powdered material together, sintering the loose powder into solid geometry. It is one of the more mature and robust 3D Printing processes available and is especially well suited for making large strong parts.

We currently run Nylon 11 and Glass Filled Nylon 12 in our machine which has a build volume of 13″ x 11″ x 16.5″ and a layer thickness of 0.004″

sls-sinterstation-cleaning-padt-1Few service providers have as much experience as PADT with this system, we have been using it for over 15 years. During that time we have upgraded almost every component and during the recent downtime, the system was fully calibrated and tuned for maximum precision and performance. We are also experts on how to post process the parts that come out of this machine, including painting and other coatings.

Just a Part of 3D Printing at PADT

PADT features 3D Printing services using Stratasys FDM and PolyJet technologies, making precision parts with a wide variety of materials and colors. We also offer Stereolithography (SLA) Additive Manufacturing services along with soft tooling and injection molding consulting.

 

Demo-Room-Pic-1If you are using a big impersonal 3D Printing “mill” or are not sure where to get your 3D Printing done, reach out to PADT. We have been doing it since 1994 and have hundreds of happy and loyal customers.

email: rp@padtinc.com

call: 480.813.4884

or visit our Rapid Prototyping Services pages at:

www.padtinc/com/rp

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Do you have an Internet of Things Strategy? PADT Can Help

thing-1-250w“It is not just a trend, it is a Tsunami. One day you will wake up and see a giant wave headed your way, and that wave will be the Internet of Things!”

This was the opening line from a presentation given by the VP of sales for a major engineering software company. It got my attention because it wasn’t hype or hyperbole.  He was just pointing out the obvious. Over the past two years the signs have been there. Smart devices will connected to the internet, and older devices will be made smart and then connected. Those that don’t, will no longer be competitive.

It is not all about smart thermostats. Far from it.  I went to IoT world in San Jose last week and saw a lot of people scrambling to find their solution. And a few that found them.  The best example was an older letter stamping machine, you can guess at the manufacturer, that plugged a modular device from Electric Imp in to their controller and boom – they were connected.  Some back end programming and they now had a competitive IoT device.

iot-networ-graphic-1 It is time to define and execute on your IoT strategy

When we visit customers, we will often ask them what their IoT Strategy is.  The answers vary from “we don’t really think our products have an IoT play” to existing products on the market.  The focus in the media is on consumer IoT products, but the bigger push right now is for industrial Internet, where machines used in manufacturing, energy generation, raw material extraction, and processing are smart and connected.

Customers from consumers to other companies will be requiring the benefits of IoT devices as they look to replace older hardware.  That is why every company that makes physical products needs to develop an IoT strategy.

PADT Can Help

We have been helping our customers define and implement their approach to IoT well, since before it was called the Internet of Things.  From assisting semiconductor companies that make MEMS sensors to making smart medical devices we are plugged in to what is needed to make IoT work.

iot-landing-page-padt-1A good place to start is our IoT landing page at:

www.padtinc.com/iot

There you can find some basic information about how PADT is a more comprehensive and technically capable solution then most design houses that claim to have IoT solutions.  We are uniquely qualified to make sure the “Thing” in your IoT strategy is designed and manufactured right.

pbj-phoenix-business-journal-logoWe also published a series of articles in the Phoenix Business Journal that provide some fundamental background information on the Internet of Things and how to deal with the challenges it presents:

ansys-iot-wheelSimulation can play a big role in almost every aspect of making your IoT device development faster and more productive.  PADT uses ANSYS, Inc.’s comprehensive Multiphysics simulation tool set to model everything from the chip to the embedded system software.

We highly recommend this white paper, “Engineering the Internet of Things

We also have a recording of a very popular webinar that we did: “Engineering the Internet of Things Devices with ANSYS Simulation

and this video on how ANSYS can drive your IoT Design:

For detailed examples, check out the ANSYS IoT Landing page to get a feel for why so many companies are driving their design with ANSYS simulation software:  www.ansys.com/iot

PADT-Webinar-Logo

Engineering the Internet of Things Devices with ANSYS Simulation

June 21, 2016 (Tue)
1:00 PM AZ & PDT / 2:00 pm MDT

REGISTER

Make sure you subscribe to PADT’s email list so you don’t miss future Events

Talking is the Best Approach

We hope that you find all of the material above, and the information we will provide in the coming months useful. But they are no substitute for giving us a call or sending us an email and setting up a face-to-face to talk about your IoT strategy and device development needs.  If you are doing the work in-house, we have the hardware and software tools you need to be successful. If you need outside help, you won’t find engineers with more applicable experience.

Give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT or email info@padtinc.com.

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Spinning Gears: 3D Printing Awards for 2016 AZ SciTech Festival Sponsors

SciTech-Festival-Award-2016-2For several years now PADT has 3D Printed special thank you awards for the fantastic companies that sponsor the Arizona SciTech Festival.  This year we decided to stick with the color of the Stratasys Connex3 but add some moving parts. This gear design spins around and was made as one part, we just wash the support material out of the gaps between parts.

This is a great example of going directly from a CAD model to a custom part.  Each award has the recipient’s name printed on the smaller gear.  Everything was designed in an hour or so and it took about another hour to add in the 30 or so names.  We think these may be the best awards we have made so far.

SciTech-Festival-Award-2016-1

SciTech-Festival-Award-2016-3

Here is a video showing off how they spin:

Awards are kind of simple and fun. But the same technology is applied by PADT to help our customers design and build better medical devices, rockets, aircraft engines, computers, and pretty much any physical product you can think of.  Give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT or email info@padtinc.com to see how “We Make Innovation Work”

Unexpected Joys at Rapid 2016

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

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

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

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

 

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

Website: http://pancomputing.com/

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

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

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

Synergy in Action, or How PADT is More than the Sum of its Parts

PADT-Company-Photo-2016-01-600wPADT talks a lot about synergy as a key strength and a key element of the value we provide to our customers. Our three departments, Manufacturing, Services, and Sales, are in constant communication, always leveraging one another’s expertise to solve problems. Strong internal relationships — a consequence of being under the same roof — precipitate easy and abundant information and resource sharing. Communication, paradigm, alignment, synergy: clear as day.

But what does any of that mean?

When a PADT product development customer meets us for the first time, he or she may be shown a slide that looks like this:

synergy-f01

Strong bilateral communication among the Product Development, 3D Printing, and Analysis groups means that the project is enriched by contributions from experts across several fields, multiplying the value we add in the development process. For instance, the product will likely someday run into a sticky problem without a clear solution. PADT can attack it from multiple angles, such as design adjustment, finite element analysis (FEA) optimization, and the iterative testing of 3D printed prototypes.

Ok, but still: what does any of that mean?

A longtime customer of PADT’s product development group recently ran into an urgent problem without a clear path to a solution. Their manufacturing partner called them and said that a particular subassembly in their design will cost three times more than expected, which would raise the price of the product above the maximum the market would bear. PADT was presented with the problem: how do we reduce the subassembly cost by 66% while maintaining overall performance, and how do we confidently select a solution in under a week?

PADT’s three engineering groups jumped in to help.

The Product Development group held a brainstorming session and came out with two adjustments to bring overall cost down. First, the subassembly of three bonded unique steel parts would be replaced by a single injection molded plastic part. This change reduces component cost to within the target, but also significantly reduces the final assembly’s structural integrity.

synergy-f02
Reduction of 3 parts to 1 part

Secondly, a plastic stiffener truss was added between components to mitigate the reduction in overall stiffness. This change adds a little assembly cost, but also significantly increases the final assembly’s structural integrity, which had been weakened by the first change.

synergy-f03
Addition of Stiffening Member

The Analysis group conducted a series of FEA simulations, first to determine the increased bending under load and second to select a material to balance the conflicting requirements for stiffness, strength, and cost. After multiple simulation iterations, it was determined that Product Development had selected a permissible path forward and that a glass-filled polypropylene provides the best combination of the three parameters.

synergy-f04
Bending under load for Material Choices 1, 2, and 3

The 3D Printing group then printed the new design for qualitative “look and feel” testing and quantitative force/deflection study. The group was able to closely match the properties of the selected material from their collection of printable filaments and top-shelf industrial printers, reproducing even the fine details — subtle fillets, radii — that boost strength but are missed with lower quality printers. Through prototype tests, it was determined that Analysis selected an appropriate material and Product Development selected an appropriate design.

In the end, PADT was able to confidently select a solution to the customer’s unique cost problem in under a week. Thanks to the synergy of three groups — Product Development, Analysis, and 3D Printing — the customer was able to stay on schedule and enter the market at a relevant price.

So how can PADT help my product?

PADT’s system for delivering services is a textbook example of synergy in action, and it represents a uniquely effective solution to your company’s product problems. Whether you’re in concept design or high-volume production, PADT will tailor-make a solution that fits your budget, schedule, and technical requirements.
Give us a call at 1–800–293-PADT or email info@padtinc.com.

PADT and ASU Collaborate on 3D Printed Lattice Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology Trends in Laser-based Metal Additive Manufacturing

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

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

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

1. Quality Monitoring

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

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

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

2. Powder Handling

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

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

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

3. Multi-Laser Processing

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

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

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

4. Software Integration

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

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

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

5. Modular System Architectures

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

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

Concluding Thoughts

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

Press Release: 3D Printing Expertise from PADT Advances Aerospace Industry

ula-rocket-duct-made-from-3d-printed-partsMany of you may have seen the recent launch of an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (ULA).  We are honored to have lent our expertise to ULA’s 3D Printing efforts that resulted in the use of parts on that rocket made with additive manufacturing.   We will be talking about that and other ways we help the Aerospace Industry at the 32nd Space Symposium this week in Colorado Springs Colorado.  Please stop by!

Read more in the press release.  A PDF can be found here.

Press Release:

3D Printing Expertise from PADT Advances Aerospace Industry

Product design and development leader provides additive manufacturing support for United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.April 11, 2016PRLog — Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies Inc. (PADT), the Southwest’s largest provider of Numerical Simulation, Product Development, and 3D Printing services and products, is highlighting its expertise this week at the 32nd Space Symposium,  the premier global, commercial, civil, military and emergent space conference.

During the symposium, PADT experts in additive manufacturing will be on hand to discuss the company’s technical expertise, logistics, sales and service capabilities in the exciting aerospace sector, which contributed to the successful launch on March 22 of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V rocket made use of lightweight thermoplastic 3D printed parts, with the application of Stratasys technology supplied by PADT and consulting from PADT on how best to apply that technology to engineering, tooling, and production.

Stop by and visit PADT’s booth 1310 at the 32nd Space Symposium, April 11-14, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. http://www.spacesymposium.org/.

“PADT continues to be both a great supplier of both polymer and metal additive manufacturing technologies and an additive manufacturing technical consultant to ULA, supporting our Atlas V, Delta IV and future Vulcan Centaur launch vehicles,” said Greg Arend, ULA manager, Additive Manufacturing. “By consulting with PADT, we were able to understand how these technologies enhance our design and manufacturing process, saving time, money and weight. PADT’s knowledge of the use of both polymer and metal materials was instrumental in helping us achieve our success.”

In addition to supplying ULA with Stratasys’ polymer 3D Printing machines, PADT consulted with them early on andled a tour of Oakridge National Labs to help them understand the state of the art for both metal and polymer applications and produced a technological roadmap for both technologies that has largely been followed.  Assisted by PADT, both companies made use of additive manufacturing for engineering prototypes, then advanced to the production of tooling for manufacturing and developed the confidence needed to move to flight hardware.

The founders of PADT have been involved with additive manufacturing since the late 1980’s and the company was the first service provider in the Southwest in 1994.  Over the years, PADT has built a reputation for technical excellence and a deep understanding of how to apply various 3D printing technologies to enable real world applications.  Their sales team has shown the ability to sell sophisticated engineering products to companies large and small, and to provide excellent support to their customers.

“3D Printing is not just about makers, nor is it just about engineering prototypes,” said Rey Chu, co-owner, principal and director of Manufacturing Technologies at PADT. “Every day users are creating production hardware to produce usable parts that save them time and money. Ducts for rockets are a perfect application of 3D printed parts because they are complex, low volume, and can make single parts that need to be made in multiple pieces using traditional methods.”

About Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies

Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, Inc. (PADT) is an engineering product and services company that focuses on helping customers who develop physical products by providing Numerical Simulation, Product Development, and Rapid Prototyping solutions. PADT’s worldwide reputation for technical excellence and experienced staff is based on its proven record of building long term win-win partnerships with vendors and customers. Since its establishment in 1994, companies have relied on PADT because “We Make Innovation Work.” With over 80 employees, PADT services customers from its headquarters at the Arizona State University Research Park in Tempe, Arizona, and from offices in Torrance, California, Littleton, Colorado, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Murray, Utah, as well as through staff members located around the country. More information on PADT can be found at http://www.PADTINC.com

— End —

 

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.

Kids, Pizza, Engineering – A Fantastic SciTech Festival Open House at PADT

ScitechFestivalLogoWe thought we would open PADT’s doors to families and maybe a few people would stop by. Over 250 people did just that.  What a great evening of smiling kids and adults enjoying the excitement of engineering.  Exciting engineering? Yes, we know enough to not talk about quality system protocols, matrix inversions, and non-linear turbulence model convergence. We stuck to 3D Printing, elephants on skateboards, and 3D scanners. And we fed everyone pizza.

FullSizeRenderIt was a great evening where everyone learned something.  The focus was on exposing what engineers do, what PADT does, to people who may not be technical. Mostly kids but we also saw it as a way for engineers to show their family members and friends what engineering is about.  The results far exceeded our expectation, mostly because of how great everyone who showed up was.

Some of the quotes from people who have emailed to thank us are:

“Thank you for opening up your office to me.  What a cool place!  Even though I have been familiar with and worked with 3D printing for 20+ years, it is always nice to see the new technology, products, and the output of the products. “

“… to see my son and all of the other kids so excited and amazed was truly awesome. Mason told me it was the best night of his life! And this morning his first words to me where thanking me for taking him to the event and when can we go back.”

“This is such a great opportunity for me to show my grandkids what I spent my life doing, and seeing them get so excited about it is wonderful”  

The best part of the event for most of us here at PADT were the fantastic questions.  As one of our engineers said “for 2 hours I was just lost in the joy of positive human interaction.”  We do love what we do here, but it was nice to share it with other people.

Below are some pictures from the evening.  Make sure you sign up for PADT’s email list to get invites to future events.

IMG_9051
We were pleased to be named a AZ SciTech Festival Signature Event

 

At several points in the evening, the line was headed out the door.
At several points in the evening, the line was headed out the door.

 

The Demo room was full of 3D Printers and the kids loved handling the parts.
The Demo room was full of 3D Printers and the kids loved handling the parts.
IMG_6080
Our office robot was a huge hit.
IMG_9042
The seminar room was turned into a hands-on lab for everyone to touch and feel the engineering tools we use.
IMG_5977
Some of the youngest attendees were able to give ANSYS AIM a literal spin and model the effect of a kid, a dad, and an elephant standing on a skateboard.
IMG_9045
Some people just took to a given tool, even advanced simulation.
Students with exposure to engineering were able to ask our experts in-depth questions about technologies.
IMG_6064
The haptic device was a huge hit. It give real feedback as you edit and probe an object on the computer. Needless to say, kids adapted to it far faster than the adults.
IMG_6109
Engineering students were able to dive deep into the mechanics behind 3D Printing as well as its real world applications in industry.
IMG_9039
This is Ovid. He is PADT’s new mascot. We hope to use him more in the future to help explain what we do here.
IMG_9037
This station shows how 3D Printing works, by stacking layers of material. Ovid doesn’t look as good in low resolution.
IMG_6150
Scanning was a great way for everyone to see how we inspect and reverse engineer objects.

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!