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3D Systems: A Visit to the Factory Floor

Mark Cook  Vice President, Metals Products 3D Systems
By Mark Cook Vice President, Metals Products, 3D Systems

Manufacturing Engineering: In late 2018, 3D Systems introduced its DMP Factory 500 concept, an end-to-end additive manufacturing solution. Why did 3D Systems feel such a solution was necessary, and what has been the response from the additive community?

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Metal AM allows manufacturers to build computational fluid dynamics (CFD) optimized geometries that are difficult or impossible to produce conventionally, such as this hydraulic manifold printed on a 3D Systems DMP Flex 350.

Mark Cook: 3D Systems has offered metal 3D printing solutions for more than two decades. However, as manufacturers continue to embrace additive manufacturing (AM) as a complement to their traditional metalworking technologies, we saw an opportunity to provide a new metal solution. In August 2018, we announced a partnership with GF Machining Solutions. Our first joint product was the DMP Factory 500 solution, designed for manufacturers who wish to combine additive and subtractive technologies to more efficiently produce complex metal parts within tight tolerances and reduced total cost of ownership (TCO).

ME: The DMP Factory platform includes five-axis machining centers and EDM equipment from GF Machining Solutions. Please describe how the partnership works—do customers now have to work with both companies for support and application advice?

Cook: Customers are able to work with either 3D Systems or GF Machining Solutions, as both are equipped to assemble the entire workflow for the manufacturer. In creating this partnership, 3D Systems and GF Machining Solutions make it easier for manufacturers to integrate metal AM into their manufacturing workflow and transform how they produce metal parts. We’re leveraging our sales and service networks to enhance global reach. Customers now have access to a distribution network operating in more than 50 countries, as well as 3D Systems’ Customer Innovation Centers (CICs) in Leuven, Belgium and Littleton, Colo., as well as GF Machining Solutions’ AMotion Center in Stabio, Switzerland.

ME: There are dozens of high-quality machine tool brands available, several of which offer metal additive and hybrid additive capabilities. Why did you choose GF Machining Solutions?

Cook: 3D Systems was already an established leader in additive manufacturing. As we thought about what would be important for our next generation of digital manufacturing solutions, we saw the value of not only integrating traditional technologies into our metal 3D printers, but integrating these technologies as part of an end-to-end workflow. 3D Systems already had manufacturing software and metal 3D printers, but we needed a partner with deep expertise and experience in serial production. That’s why we chose GF Machining Solutions. They are renowned as one of the world’s leading providers of complete solutions to the precision machining industry and to manufacturers of precision components. Through our collaboration, we’ve been able to integrate their System 3R referencing and clamping system into our DMP Factory platform, as well as the AgieCharmilles CUT AM 500 wire EDM machine and the Mikron HSM 200U LP high-speed milling machines into the manufacturing workflow.

ME: An important part of the DMP Factory is powder management, but I understand there were some issues with the powder management module (PMM). What happened, and are these modules now functioning for all metals?

Cook: The most important aspect of powder management is to maintain powder quality throughout the workflow such that nearly all powder can be consumed in the process of making parts. This includes reconditioning unused powder that has repeatedly gone through the workflow. In our initial testing, we were confident that our powder management solution would meet the powder quality requirement. After extensive testing, however, it was determined that we needed to further improve the ability to repeatedly recycle powder and maintain the highest quality standard. To address this specific issue, we decoupled the depowdering function from the recycling function and now perform powder management in two independent modules, the depowdering module (DPM) and the powder recycle module (PRM).

ME: The DMP Factory 500 is positioned as a “workflow-optimized metal 3D printing solution.” What does this mean, why is it important, and how is it accomplished?

Cook: We actually offer two different versions of our DMP Factory metal 3D printers—the DMP Factory 350 and DMP Factory 500. Both are designed for production of high-quality metal parts and incorporate an integrated powder management system with high-performance sieving and automated powder conveyance, while an O2-free atmosphere (consistently below 25 ppm) guarantees the highest part quality as well as maximum powder usage. Where the DMP Factory 500 sets itself apart (aside from its larger build volume ) is that it’s a modular system designed to scale to meet a manufacturer’s production workflow needs. It is comprised of function-specific modules, each fully integrated with a removable print module (RPM) that is vacuum-sealable for a controlled print environment and engineered to move between printer and powder modules for continuous production workflow.

ME: I’ve read that at least one 3D printer manufacturer has controlled its laser processes to the point that support structures can largely be eliminated, in turn eliminating the need for secondary machining. What are your thoughts on this? Do you anticipate that this trend will extend to other machine builders?

Cook: This is excellent and welcome news; however, it’s much less of a breakthrough than an incremental advancement in powder bed fusion capabilities. Our DMP printers—through the capabilities of our 3DXpert software—are designed to minimize (and eliminate) support structures wherever possible. 3DXpert’s build simulation will visualize where part deformation will occur in the part. For some simple geometries where residual stress from the thermal dynamics are low, supports can be eliminated. For more complex geometries on critical parts where precision is paramount, elimination of supports is not recommended and is also not typically a primary decision factor for application viability.

ME: Which industries will be most apt to leverage metal 3D printing technology, and why? How will 3D Systems deal with metallurgical concerns, part certification, and other requirements that have previously hampered metal AM adoption?

Cook: As we help customers integrate metal AM into their workflow, we find many of them overwhelmed with the process of validating and qualifying an AM production workflow. 3D Systems’ background as an industry pioneer in metal AM means we have extensive experience with process characterization, risk management, risk analyses, and best practices for process control. Our team of seasoned AM experts have developed an effective equipment qualification protocol for all stages, and we offer application development, advanced training and engineering services to our customers through our CICs. We’ve produced hundreds of thousands of validated metal parts for use in highly regulated environments such as healthcare, aerospace, and energy.

ME: Setting aside the DMP Factory platform for a moment, have there been any other notable technology developments from 3D Systems over the past year or so? And are you willing to share a preview of IMTS 2020?

Cook: One of the most notable technology developments from 3D Systems in 2019 was the launch of ten new materials for our Figure 4 platform that were all designed for true production applications. Additionally, across both plastics and metals technologies, our customers produced more than 200 million parts in 2019 with 3D Systems’ solutions. As for IMTS 2020, 3D Systems will have a strong presence, showcasing our digital manufacturing solutions that include materials, hardware, software and services. You’ll see innovations in materials and software, as well as increased adoption of our metals digital manufacturing solutions. We’re looking forward to showcasing applications that our newest customers are addressing.

ME: What are your predictions for the metal AM industry overall? Is the production printing of metal parts finally going to be a reality? If so, when?

Cook: I read and hear all the time “we’re almost there” when it comes to using AM for production applications. Because we have the technology today to do high-quality, high-volume parts, I’d say we are there.

Commercialized Integration to Enable Closed-Loop Control

Sigma Labs Inc. of Santa Fe, N.M., and Leuven, Belgium-based Materialise have entered into a joint sales agreement to commercialize the newly-integrated PrintRite3D quality assurance technology and Materialise MPC controller platform, an embedded hardware and software solution that addresses the growing need for broader and more straightforward control over the additive manufacturing process by giving full control to the end user.

AM for General Industry and Tooling to Reach $5.48 Billion in 2029

A new report from SmarTech Analysis, Crozet, Va., describes the growing adoption of AM technologies by key equipment manufacturers, industrial parts suppliers, and AM service providers catering to the general industry and tooling sector. The study found that total revenue generation associated with the these two markets will reach $5.48 billion in 2029, including a $1.6 billion yearly revenue opportunity from AM hardware sales, and suggests that:

  • More and more industrial manufacturers are digitizing their supply chains, increasing the rate of AM adoption.
  • Polymer AM will continue to play a leading role in the general industry and tooling sector due to its already large installed base.
  • Metal AM, including both hardware and materials, will grow at a rapid pace as the technology is used for the production of molds and, increasingly, end-use parts.
  • 3D-printed molds and dies will play a unique role in the general industry and tooling sector, with these manufacturers becoming pathways for introducing AM technology to the broader sector.

Companies mentioned in the report include Carbon, EOS, HP, Caterpillar, Volvo Construction Equipment, GE Additive, Siemens, Sandvik, Desktop Metal, and others. For additional information, visit www.smartechanalysis.com/reports.

3DPRINTUK Completes Move to Larger Facility

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The machine room at 3DPRINTUK’s new facility is home to seven EOS Formiga P1 Series systems and one EOS P3 Series machine, with room for additional equipment in the near future.

Thanks to increased demand for low-volume production, SLS service provider 3DPRINTUK has completed its transition to a new “purpose-designed” facility in North London, UK. With nearly 10,000 ft2 (929 m3) of operating space (a five-fold increase), it hosts the company’s “growing fleet” of EOS polymer SLS machines and ancillary equipment. This includes two rooms dedicated to post-processing operations for cleaning and dyeing (the company was the first in the UK to install a DM60 system from Dye Mansion), as well as a breakdown room that is fully sealed from external environmental effects to avoid powder contamination.

Ultimaker Cura Software Prepares Two Million Print Jobs per Week

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New features in the open-source Ultimaker Cura 4.5 include “fuzzy skin outside only” for cleaner holes, brim distance (shown here) that allows users to define a gap between the brim and model, and settings for skin edge support.

Desktop 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker has launched an online marketplace that uses the company’s open-source Ultimaker Cura 4.5 slicing software and offers users access to plug-ins for industry-standard software platforms, as well as direct integration of several CAD software solutions. It was reportedly preparing two million print jobs per week and 3D models for more than 600,000 users per month at the end of 2019.

Using Digital Tech to Accelerate AM Innovation

According to London-based digital solution provider Additive Flow, the potential of additive manufacturing has been discussed for many years, while realization of this potential has been slow. One of the key barriers to adoption occurs at the front end of the AM workflow, which includes design for additive, optimization with multiple parameters, process simulation, and material selection and placement.

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Additive Flow’s new FormFlow software promises to reduce AM bottlenecks to optimize cost and increase performance through multi-functional, customized workflows.

 

To address these barriers, the company said it has developed FormFlow, a modular software system able to apply “multiple user-defined parameters for geometry, process parameter, and material optimization.” Further, the software is said to use multiphysics algorithms to optimize part geometry and material properties; produce production files; allow users to simultaneously view productivity, cost, and performance information; and “put the right material, with the right properties, in the right place.”

ORNL and nTopology Enter R&D Agreement

New York-based engineering software developer nTopology Inc. has entered into an agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee to advance the capabilities of additive manufacturing through integrated software toolkits and embed ORNL expertise into nTop software. The partners plan to make these capabilities available commercially to the broader advanced manufacturing market.

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Collaboration between nTopology and ORNL may optimize build speed and the use of materials for making parts on large-scale printers, like this BAAM unit at ORNL.

The multiple-phase collaboration incorporates nTopology software with ORNL-developed machine control capabilities on large-scale polymer AM systems. This integration will enable the advanced design of part geometries optimized for manufacturing. Potential impacts include improved design and modeling controls as well as the production of reusable, configurable templates for end users of the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL.

ExOne Qualifies New 3D Printing Materials

Equipment manufacturer ExOne, North Huntington, Pa., has qualified 15 additional metal, ceramic and composite materials for use on its line of binder jetting 3D printers. It accomplished this with the assistance of Global Tungsten & Powders, H.C. Starck Solutions, the U.S. Department of Energy, Virginia Tech, and other industry partners. This brings the company’s total offering to 21 materials, including Inconel 718, M2 tool steel, silicon carbide, and titanium.

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