MIND OF METAL: ALUMINUM

Aluminum. Common! But NOT boring. We’ll intro this blog post with some of the basics about this amazing metal and its alloys, and then move on to what we suspect will really grab you — its utility in 3D printing and design considerations you should have in mind when using it.

This article is divided into 4 sections, and each one is relevant to 3D printing:


THE VIRTUES OF ALUMINUM

The Fuller Moto 2029 Majestic features 3D printed aluminum parts on a retro frame based on the French classic 1929 Majestic.
Possible replica of the aluminum cutlery used by Napoleon III.


Did you know that Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust? So perhaps it isn’t surprising that humanity has found so many uses for it. Aluminum is the most widely used metal in the world. In fact, no other metal compares when it comes to the sheer span of its applications. 

Aluminum is so useful and so popular because it is:

  • Lightweight
  • Strong
  • Corrosion resistant
  • Durable
  • Ductile
  • Malleable
  • Conductive
  • Odorless

For a metal, Aluminum has a low melting point (660°C /1220°). This is higher than PEEK, so in a sense, aluminum is a midpoint between plastics and more robust metals like stainless.

Did you know that Aluminum is also an environmentally conscious choice? The Aluminum Association estimates that 75% of the aluminum ever produced is still in use today!

It is 100% recyclable and recycling it requires only 5% of the energy required in new aluminum production. Importantly, recycling Aluminum does not compromise its natural properties.

Interesting fact about aluminum…

Despite the fact that it is so common, it wasn’t extracted into useable metal form until the 1800’s. That’s because raw aluminum doesn’t exist naturally. It has to be extracted (most popularly today from bauxite). At the time, aluminum was considered even more valuable than gold. Napoleon III served his guests with aluminum (not gold) cutlery not unlike the set shown in the picture in the margin.


THE VAST SPECTRUM OF ALUMINUM ALLOYS

Made in Canada Quad-Antennae produced jointly by Burloak, MDA and the NRC.

Even though you can find aluminum everywhere – from muffin tins to your iPhone — it is most commonly used in alloy form.

Why? Because while aluminum is common and useful, it is not the ‘best-in-class’ when it comes to different features. For example, while aluminum’s thermal conductivity (237) is comparatively high, it is only about 60% of copper. Creating alloys that blend aluminum and copper (series 2xxx) enhances thermal conductivity.

Each standard aluminum alloy designation was designed and optimized for certain uses. Alloy 6061, for instance, is suited to structural applications, and alloy 7075 for aerospace. Companies even develop custom aluminum alloys to better suit their needs (E.g. Alferium, Magnox, and Titanal).

Aluminum is broadly categorized into 3 groups: Commercially pure, heat treatable, and non-heat treatable alloys. Aluminum series include:

  • 1xxx: Commercially pure (99%) aluminum, most commonly used in transmission (power) lines and food packaging
  • 2xxx: Heat treatable alloy,. Copper is used as the principle alloying element and can be strengthened significantly through solution heat-treating.  These alloys possess a good combination of high strength and toughness, but do not have the same degree of atmospheric corrosion resistance as many other aluminum alloys. 
  • 3xxx: Manganese is the major alloying element in this series, often with smaller amounts of magnesium added.  However, only a limited percentage of manganese can be effectively added to aluminum.
  • 4xxx: 4xxx series alloys are combined with silicon, which can be added in sufficient quantities to lower the melting point of aluminum, without resulting in brittleness.
  • 5xxx: Magnesium is the primary alloying agent in the 5xxx series and is one of the most effective and widely used alloying elements for aluminum.  Alloys in this series possess moderate to high strength characteristics, as well as good weldablility and resistance to corrosion in the marine environment. 
  • 6xxx: Heat treatable alloy. The 6xxx series are versatile, heat treatable, highly formable, weldable and have moderately high strength coupled with excellent corrosion resistance.  Alloys in this series contain silicon and magnesium in order to form magnesium silicide within the alloy. Extrusion products from the 6xxx series are the first choice for architectural and structural applications.
  • 7xxx: Zinc is the primary alloying agent for this series, and when magnesium is added in a smaller amount, the result is a heat-treatable, very high strength alloy. 
  • 8xxx: This series for wrought aluminum is a bit of a catch all for aluminum alloys containing elements not mentioned above, or a more diverse variety of elements (like alloy 8006)


THE IMPORTANCE OF ALUMINUM POWDER

Why
You may already realize that certain metal printing technologies (such as SLM, DMLS and DED) require aluminum powder even when the component being manufactured is of a different metal.

If you would like a quick overview of metal additive processes, please click here.

How
While there are a number of ways to create metal powder (gas atomization, granulization, electrolysis, chemical), the best aluminum alloy powders are manufactured by inert gas atomization, a process that shoots an intense blast of inert gas at droplets of liquefied metal (blast a shot of air at running water and you’ll get the basic idea). Proper quality controls are designed to ensure uniform powder morphology, which is critical in ensuring optimal material printed density.

Types
The powders shown in the accompanying pictures are of the AlSi10Mg alloy by Osprey Saandvik, and show a near uniform size and shape. The AlSi10Mg powder is similar in composition to alloy 6061, and is well suited to thin walled and complex geometries, and lightweight aerospace and transportation applications.

The AlSi10Mg was designed for powder bed fusion 3D printing, and when used with SLM printers like the EPlus3D line of SLM printers can achieve densities of 99.9%.

Other aluminum powders include AlSi7Mg from Osprey Saandvik, and a series of alloys by Rusal that include 2xxx series AlCu RS-230, and higher strength AlSiCu RS-320.

Quality
The aluminum powder is melted and fused together with a laser to produce metal parts of equal quality to machined models. 3D-printed aluminum doesn’t look like traditional shiny milled aluminum. Instead, it has a matte gray finish with a slightly rougher and less defined surface. The subtle sparkle you’ll notice is caused by the silicon in the alloy.

Please contact us for more information about the EPlus3D EPM line of SLM printers, and Osprey Saandvik and Rusal powders.


3D PRINTED ALUMINUM PARTS

3D printed pistons tested in the Porche 911 GT2 RS could add 30HP
Heat exchanger by Eplus3D and the Harbin Institute of Technology
Complex structural supports like this one designed by Eplus3D application engineers adds structural rigidity without increasing the net weight.

One of the biggest advantages of metal 3D design and printing is the accommodation of complexity. That complexity take the form of nesting – creating parts with internal channels and features that aren’t possible to manufacture any other way – and lightweighting.

Both of these features have tremendous practical applications. You can print a multi-part assembly as one unit, drastically cutting down in manufacturing and assembly time, and developing a more economical and efficient parts overall.

Here are a just a few areas where 3D printed aluminum is blazing a path forward.

Engine components
Aluminum’s light weight and high thermal conductivity makes it an ideal choice for engine blocks and components. The prime enemy of any engine (other than neglect or accidents) is heat, so thermal conductivity is important to minimize wear due to excessive heat. The majority of engine’s currently in production are made of aluminum, as opposed to cast iron.

Additive’s strengths have allowed for a rethink of a great number of engine components, including the design of pistons to enhance performance and cooling, connecting rods, intake manifolds, and so forth. Ford designed a high performance manifold was uniquely suited to 3D printing. The manifold allows for the greater air intake required by an all-aluminum 3.5 litre 914 horsepower V-6. 3D printing it also reduced waste and cut back on prototyping time and cost.

Other Auto Components
Still related to automotive use, 3D printed aluminum has found growing use in other automotive applications. For example, Eplus3D designed a mono-form heat exchanger in collaboration with Harbin Institute of Technology. This heat exchanger was designed for an award winning electric race race, and is created as a solid unit, reducing the potential for ruptures or leaks due to seams.

Drone/UAV Components
Lightweight aluminum components in drone production increase the drone’s durability and allow greater versatility for attachments (such as cameras). While cost conscious producer of personal use drones still rely heavily on polymer components, the use of aluminum enhances the drones robustness and re-usability for commercial application.

For example Cobra Aero, on contract for the American military, is 3D printing a new engine casing for its UAV product.

Robotics
Robotics is very broad field that ranges from from articulated industrial robotics used for fabrication, to the the creation of endo-skeletal structures for more classically humanoid robots, or exoskeletal assists, the use of 3D printed aluminum components is almost a no brainer. Here again additive design grants broad benefits when it comes to enhancing strength and lightweighting.

Prosthetics
The variability of the human body generates a high requirement for custom components when considering the production of prosthetics. Metal 3D printing makes use of lightweight, durable aluminum components more accessible than ever before.


DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS FOR ALUMINUM PRINTING

You will want to account for each of these in your product or part design. While many of the considerations apply to metals generally, work by Eplus3d application engineers have found that aluminum is a comparatively more accommodating material to work with, so additional comments have been included to distinguish aluminum.

This cut-away of monoform conduit box by Eplus3D illustrates shell thickness.
  • THICKNESS
    As a rule of thumb, minimum wall thickness of any aluminum part should be 1mm. However, where post-processing is needed, wall thickness may need to be increased. (E.g. A part that will be milled or blasted before use.)

  • DETAIL
    Aluminum lends well to printing very fine detail.

    While not the only application, this is a great benefit if the printed components need to be identified with a serial number. Fine detailing like engraved or embossed text will print very nicely if you outline the letters with a line thickness of 40µm and use a minimum height of 40µm (and/or a minimum depth of 15µm).

    Some SLM printers like the Eplus3D’s EPM line can actually print in detail as small as 25µm.

  • GEOMETRY
    Always an important consideration when 3D printing. Apart from aesthetics, part geometry can govern part strength, surface adhesion, support use and the amount of post-processing. Generally speaking, it is better to use steep angles (greater than 35°) as this makes it easier to achieve a quality smooth surface.

    A note about supports…
    The use of supports is a subset of part geometry but is important enough to warrant further consideration. As useful as supports can be, ideally the designer wants to minimize if not completely remove the need for supports. Supports are useful to keep the model rigid while building and prevent internal stress and deformations, but….

    They need to be removed. And support structure removal can require a lot of work, which is compounded by the number of supports. With DMLS technology, a high-powered laser sinters Aluminum powder to form the print. However, support structures are required, (and in fact, are automatically generated and 3D printed. They keep the model rigid during printing and prevent internal stress and deformations, but post print, manual removal of supports may require grinding, sanding and sandblasting for smooth finish.

    Interestingly, Eplus3D application engineers have noted that printing aluminum using the EPM series SLM printers have been more accommodating of flatter angles (to almost 15°, versus the normal angle of 45°). This benefits the designer by support reduction, and further facilitation of design complexity such as larger circles or holes.

    For more information on post-processing, please review our article: Mind of Metal: Post-Processing.

  • ESCAPE HOLES
    It is usually advisable to plan for lower overhang angles and bigger holes than when 3D printing steel.

If that wasn’t more than you wanted to know about Aluminum 3D printing, we’d love to the chance to answer your questions! Contact us.

POLYPROPYLENE: THERMOPLASTIC WORKHORSE

Pill containers. Plastic furniture. Containers for cleaning fluids. Rubbermaid storage bins.

Since its origins in 1951, polypropylene (PPE) has become one of the most common thermoplastics, accounting for over 22% of global plastic production (73.7 million tonnes of 330 million tonnes) in 2016. PPE is similar to polyethylene in many ways, but is stiffer and has a higher melting point. While a large proportion goes into fibres and storage containers, it has found increasing use in automotive applications where its low density and high strength has made it very useful in the ongoing drive to reduce vehicle weight. It has also found growing use in medical applications and is used to augment asphalt for road construction. Polypropylene is everywhere.

Why is it only now gaining traction in the 3D printing industry?

Despite its many virtues, there are some challenges when working with polypropylene. The good news is that solutions have been discovered and those challenges can now be mitigated. Read on!

The Strengths of Polypropylene

  • Lightweight and Tensile strength
    PPE has a high tensile strength (4,800 psi) and yet is the lightest of commodity plastics, boasting a density of between 0.895 and 0.92 g/cm³ (compared to 1.04 g/cm³ for polyethylene and 1.15 g/cm³ for nylon)
  • Elasticity and Fatigue Resistance
    PPE is considered to be a ‘tough’ material in that it can plastically de-form without breaking. It will retain its shape following a fair amount of torsion, bending and/or flexing. This makes it an ideal material when making living hinges like those on shampoo or detergent lids.
  • Chemical Resistance
    PPE is resistant to diluted bases, acids and organic solvents. This makes it a good choice for gas cans, cleaning agent containers, first-aid products, and more.
  • Water resistance
    PPE is hydrophobic. This means it does not absorb water, and when removed from an immersive state, dries quickly. This property is essential for total immersion applications in medical and industrial applications.
  • Insulation: 
    PPE has a very high resistance to electricity and consequently is very useful for electronic components.
  • Non-Toxic
    The USFDA has rated PPE food-safe. It is BPA free. Biological factors, such as bacteria and fungi, will not cause it to mold or deteriorate in quality.
  • Transparency/Optical Clarity
    Although PPE can be made transparent, it is normally produced to be naturally opaque in color. PPE can be used for applications where some transfer of light is important or of aesthetic value.

3D Printing Polypropylene: the Challenges

Like other thermoplastics, polypropylene has some drawbacks. It is UV-sensitive, has a high coefficient of thermolinear expansion, and is susceptible to chlorinated solvents.

When 3D printing, PPE has historically presented two sticky (or non-sticky?) challenges that have made it a bit daunting to 3D print:

  • This material really doesn’t like to stick to anything other than itself
  • Its semi-crystalline structure and high rate of thermolinear expansion make it prone to warp

Thankfully, these concerns can be mitigated successfully.

And the Solutions!

  • Temperature Control
    Do your best to control the temperature throughout the printing process. Stay within 5 degrees of the recommended extrusion temperature. If possible, print in a heated build chamber. If you do not have ready access to one, enclose the build environment to prevent drafts (and thereby minimize temperature fluctuations).
  • Increase Bed Adhesion
    Use brims and drafts in your design. These increase the surface area of the first layer of your print. This will reduce concentrated points of warping stresses and increase the quality of your print. After printing, they can be snipped or peeled off.

    Alternatively, adhesives like Nano Polymer Adhesive while designed for high performance filaments have shown a dramatic, universal applicability.
  • Select the Right Filament
    Polymers like PPE can be formulated with different additives to enhance certain characteristics. For example, 3Dtech introduced Hyperlite PPE. This product features an ultra low density filament that is more resistant to warping. Some filaments are produced of blended or filled PPE product that features a particular mechanical characteristic, such as tensile strength.

HYPERLITE POLYPROPYLENE
CARBON FIBRE POLYPROPYLENE
GLASS FIBRE POLYPROPYLENE

MIND OF METAL: POST-PROCESSING

MIND OF METAL: POST PROCESSING

(This article was produced in collaboration with Eplus3D and is the second article in our Mind of Metal series.  If you missed it, the article that introduced this series is here.)

pre-processing … processing … POST PROCESSING

Perhaps you’ve designed an optimized titanium hip replacement.  Or a mold with conformal cooling.  No matter how extraordinary or how utilitarian, the point is:  you are now printing with metal.  New to you!  (And kind of exciting.)   You look at the part on the build plate.  The product of all your hard work is finally ready to be put to use.

Hmm.  Or maybe not quite ready.  You may have some post-processing steps to consider.  

Post-processing can be broadly broken down into three categories or steps: 

Any one or all of these steps may apply to the printed metal part in order for it to suit its desired intent.


PART EXTRACTION

This step may seem a bit obvious; of course you need to remove the part from the printer before you can use it.  However, it may not be quite as simple as taking a spoon out of the kitchen drawer.  Extraction may involve:

Powder Removal
In the case of SLM, BDJ and other powder bed methods, the part will be buried in the powder used to print the part.  This  ultra-fine powder needs to be treated with caution.  Breathing or even touching it can be harmful, so you will need to exercise care to limit your exposure to it.  You may also want to give thought to sieving and reusing excess powder.   

Part Removal
Powder bed fusion processes like SLM fuse the created part to the build plate.  Consequently, the part will need to be cut off.  A bandsaw will work but if available, wire Electrical Discharge Machining may be preferable since the wire used is thinner than a bandsaw (0.20mm vs 0.45mm+) and the tolerances will be tighter to the build plate and therefore remove less material.

Support Removal
It is a good practice if possible to design metal parts with as few supports as possible because of the extra work required in their removal. However, if your structure required supports, this is the stage where you would normally remove them, though they can also be removed at the finishing stage for secondary processing. 

Stress Relief
Need for stress relief will depend on the build process.  The heating and cooling metal undergoes during the build can lead to internal stresses within the created part.  Although developments in control software have reduced the need for this step, it is sometimes necessary to relieve a part’s internal stress before it is removed from the build plate.  This can be accomplished by placing the build plate in a heated oven or furnace, and then allowing it to cool gradually and uniformly. Although stress relief requires the application of heat, we categorize this step – if necessary – in part extraction specifically because it is occurs prior the removal of the part from the build plate.


HEAT TREATMENT

While it can sometimes be viewed as an optional step, heat treatment can have very important some cases a necessary, even in optional cases metal 3D printed parts can benefit from a heat treatment.  SLM components boast a 98%+ density and may not require as much heat treatment as BDJ components.  However, heat treatment can still be critical for functional pressure or load bearing components.  Heat treatment can involve:

Debinding/Binder Removal
When using binder jetting a completed print is considered ‘green’ and the binding agent must at least be in part removed prior to sintering. Debinding may involve heat or chemical treatment, but the goal is to remove as much of the binder as possible before further processing the print. This step is exclusive to binder jetting and involves the removal of the binding agent used to create the print by placing the component in a furnace and burning it out. 

Subsequent to the debinding process, infiltration can be used to replace binding agents and reduce part porosity.

Sintering
Sintering is the process of fusing particles together into one solid mass by using a combination of pressure and heat without liquefaction or melting. Sintering can be applied to a wide range of materials ranging from plastics to metal. As indicated earlier, when applied to metal prints annealing can reduce thermals stresses, reduce potential warping and distortions, reduce porosity and strength parts.


Annealing
Annealing is subjecting a part or material to heat in order to increase its ductility and reduce the hardness. This change in hardness and ductility is a result of the reduction of dislocations in the crystal structure of the material being annealed. Annealing may result when subjecting 3D printed parts to a sintering process (in the case of binder jetting), or may be used to relieve stress for SLM/DMLS parts.

Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP)
HIP is commonly used in the casting industry to improve the fatigue life of casted parts.  It is a process that subjects metal components to elevated temperatures and isostatic gas pressure, and can be used to increase 3D metal part density.  This process can be used on almost any metal part to increase part density to 100%.


FINISHING

Metal parts usually require further steps to bring about the desired finish.  This is not always simply an aesthetic consideration; it can also impact the performance of fitted components.  For example, complex interlocking and dynamic components require a smooth surface to reduce friction, but not at the expense of the unit’s integrity.  (In such cases, it is very important that the part design accounts for the resultant reduction in wall thickness.)

MachiningIt may seem a little counterintuitive, but CNC machining can be used to refine dimensionally crucial features (such as holes or threads) where tolerances need to exceed 0.005”.  Micro-machining can improve the surface quality and fatigue strength. 

Manual Finishing/Polishing:  Manual polishing and finishing is laborious and time consuming and is more effective on softer metals than harder. There are a great many tools that can be used in this process including hand grinders, sandpaper, drills, carbide burrs, flapwheels and a host of other devices.  

Sand (abrasive) blasting: Far more effective than mere sanding, sandblasting is a useful way to smooth out the surface finish of metal prints.

Plating: As the name implies, plating enhances the base print with a thin metal surface layer.  This can be achieved via electroplating (electrolysis or dipping) and using any of a number of metals for plating.

Chemical Treatment: As you may be aware, this option is more commonly associated with polymer prints – anyone having taken time to subject an ABS print to acetone vapour, or PVB prints to isopropyl alcohol will understand.  While not as common, metal applications include the application of citric or nitric acid baths to passivate stainless steel (i.e. give it greater resistance to oxidation).


PRE-PROCESSING FOR POST-PROCESSING

Does post-processing seem rather involved?  Yes, there is no doubt that it can be.  To have a realistic grasp of the time and costs associated with metal 3D printing, you will need to inform yourself as to precisely what processing your part will require.  

You will want to consider whether pre-processing variables can be adjusted in order to mitigate the amount of post processing required.  

Here are some considerations: 

Design:  The greatest strength of additive manufacturing is design freedom; therefore, adjusting the myriad possible variables and settings is the most obvious way to reduce need for post-processing.

One example is layer thickness.  A thicker layer means a faster print, but more work will be required to smooth out the print shell.  Conversely, the finer the layer, the slower the print but the finishing time is reduced.  

Another example is print orientation.  This can minimize the use of support structures, and account for any z-axis strength variations.

(Spoiler alert:  our next installment in our Mind of Metal blog series will discuss design considerations in much more depth!)

Powder:  Metal powder particles can vary in shape and range in size from 15-150μm.  Generally speaking,  finer powder increases print density and the print will be more exact and refined.  

INSPECTION AND TESTING

These may also be part of the equation.  Often these are not a variable, but a requirement when certification of parts requires adherence to industry specifications.  Inspection and testing processes include: 

  • metrology
  • inspection and nondestructive testing using white/blue-light scanning
  • dye-penetrant testing
  • ultrasonic testing
  • computed tomography (CT) scanning
  • destructive testing of sample parts
  • powder chemistry analysis
  • material microstructure analysis 

In addition to industry-specific testing, there is a growing body of additive manufacturing standards available through organizations like ASME and ASTM.  

LOOKING AHEAD

Our next post will continue our Mind of Metal series with a detailed look at design considerations for metal printing.

We would like to thank and note Eplus3D for their collaboration and input in the creation of this article.

Click here to request the Mind of Metal: the Sequel white paper dealing with post-processing.


CANARI – CANadian Academic and Research Incentive

Canada is lagging behind. New technologies have launched a modern industrial revolution and we are barely part of it. Educators should be concerned; will the next generation be properly equipped? This technology is having profound impact across a wide swath of industries, from health sciences to architecture. But at this point in time, Canada trails other major economies in implementation of new technologies; likewise, we register proportionally less patents on new inventions and innovations. Additional evidence of this disturbing trend:

As our way of combatting this growing disparity, we’d like to introduce the CANARI:  The Canadian Academic Research Incentive.  It’s our Canadian company’s scheme to give Canadian education and Canadian research initiatives a bit of a boost: cutting edge 3D printing tech at the best possible price.

WHAT IS IT?

The CANARI is an aggressive price discount for qualifying educational institutions and research initiatives.

WHO GETS IT?

Any academic institution using or wanting to incorporate additive technologies to further educational goals. Additionally, any organization that intends to use additive technology for research and development.

  • the schoolteacher planning hands-on and motivating ways to teach
  • the researcher studying new building materials
  • the innovator who needs a prototype
  • the architect considering additive technology in residential construction
  • the company trying to modify a design to better meet client needs
  • the shop designing jigs for a new product

WHAT PRODUCTS OR SERVICES DOES IT APPLY TO?

The CANARI can be applied to all of our products! (Price discounts vary by item and quantity; please contact us for more information.)

It is our hope that Canadian researchers and educational institutions will take advantage of the CANARI discount to advance Canadian manufacturing innovation and to equip the next generation.

DEVIL’S IN THE DIFFERENCES

This is an account of two industrial machine-tooling and sales companies and how they each choose to produce the same new product. Both make intelligent and strategic choices. Yet those choices are very different — because the two companies and their respective access to the market are different. While the companies named here are fictitious, the details are true, and we believe you will gain some insight into when and how your own organization might incorporate additive technology. Or, why it might reasonably choose not to! (Only one company in our account does use 3D printing; yet, as we will see, both companies have chosen wisely.)

This is how the story begins. Two industrial machine-tooling and sales companies, Tried-and-True Inc. and New-to-You Corp., each come across a design for a new retaining clip that will secure safety equipment to safety helmets. Both companies recognize the growth potential in providing the clips due to increased and mandated use of personal protection equipment.

Now, safety clips are high stress items; they are prone to breaking and require replacement fairly routinely. Consequently, while each company is open to considering various materials, certainly they will both be looking for a combination of toughness, chemical and heat resistance. Both companies expect the market will bear a final retail price of $25 for 3 sets.

But if the two companies agree on what they are producing, they differ on the means of production. Let’s take a look.

Concept Picture 1
Concept Picture 2
Concept Picture 3

Day 1

Tried-and-True Inc. has a wholesaling division and has established itself with a growing number of retailers across the country. Tried-and-True is a wholesaler and not an actual manufacturer. However, this company has periodically sought the production of items — some functional, some promotional — and so has a modicum of experience with direct production.

Tried-and-True decides to investigate production of the clips by injection molding. Injection molding (IM) is one of the most efficient and commonly used technologies in the world.

From past experience, Tried-and-True recognizes that the geometry of the clip may require modification. There are a number of variations in material thickness, which could cause stress and distortion during the cooling cycle.

Tried-and-True picks three reputable IM molds producers and solicits an estimate for a mold that will contain one left and one right clip (for one complete clip set).

New-to-You Corp. works with a couple offices in larger cities, but is largely focused on internet-based sales and supply. On occasion, when it has not been able to source a needed item from manufacturers in its network, it has arranged to produce that item. New-to-You has not been able to source suitable clips, so is now investigating production.

New-to-You has been hearing more and more about the uses of 3D printing. The company has heard varying stories about speed and quality, but has decided to explore the potential of producing the clips using additive technologies.

The clip design – as is – does not pose any problem for additive processes and does not require any modifications. New-to-You reaches out to three companies that offer 3D printing services, each one using a different medium: FDM printing, SLA printing or SLS printing .

Both companies decide to make use of FDM 3D printing to produce a series of prototypes to ensure the end product will meet expectations.

Both companies take reception of the 3D printed prototypes at roughly the same time. The prototypes now allow for functional testing, but also permit the two companies to do more market research to confirm expected demand.

And the similarities end there.


Day 7

When Tried-and-True approaches the mold producers, the decision about what material to use has not yet been finalized. The clips must have some flexibility, so they are contemplating polypropylene, polyethylene or possibly polyamide (nylon).

Anticipated sales are a consideration for material choice for the clips; greater sales volume may justify a higher quality material. Sales potential is also considered when determining mold design, as it may impact how many cavities each mold should have. Because Tried-and-True has an established network of potential distributors, anticipated sales are fairly high — 10,000 sets within a 12 month period.

Three mold producers submit estimates. All advise Tried-and-True that the design is fairly complex, with a number of sharp corners and changes in geometry. Quotes range from $31,500 to $37,500 per set.

BREAKING IT DOWN…

The cost of producing each set will depend greatly on the material chosen. But the cycle time for each set is approximately 45 seconds. This means that one complete set can be produced every 45 seconds, or 80 sets per hour. Assuming a 12 hour production period, 960 sets can be produced per day.

Estimated material cost per set varies with the quote, but averages $0.40/set. Consultants place an extra $0.10 per set for post processing, so $0.50/set.

Tried-and-True does not have a injection press and will have to contract a 3rd party to produce the components. The low-end shop rate for a 65 ton press is around $65/hour, or $0.81 per set.

Cost estimates per set therefore total roughly $1.31 per set. Packaging and shipping costs are estimated to add an additional $0.60 per set to a total of $1.91. On the other hand, if the mold were designed with cavities for three full sets, every three sets would cost roughly $5.73. But this isn’t Tried-and-True’s first time around the block; it increases this estimate by 20% to account for unforeseen expenses and cost variations. Estimated cost of production for three sets of clips is $6.88.


MEANING…

Tried-and-True distributors all see value in offering the 3-pack of clips and have agreed to stock the item. They respect the $25 price point set by Tried-and-True, but would like a minimum 35 points, so the agreed upon distributor price is $16.25.

Tried-and-True will realize $9.35 on each sale, net of promotions, overheads and shrinkage.

This means that breakeven point to recover the cost of the molds is between 3,300 and 4,000 sales,. Based on the company’s initial projections of 10,000 sales in 12 months, it anticipates recovering its initial capital investment within the first half.

New-to-You Corp. believes that while the design will do well, volume will likely not exceed 500 units per month because the clips are mount-specific. Meanwhile, New-to-You has heard back from different companies about using 3D printing to produce the components.

BREAKING IT DOWN…

  • Company A boasts the use of a small farm of FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printers. FDM offers the widest range of thermoplastic polymers. Drawbacks of FDM printing are speed and possibly aesthetics, since the layer lines are typically visible. Because the design of the clips is not ideally suited to FDM, printing them will require fairly extensive support, which in turn will require extra time. Company A offers 5 printers.

    Production Time: 48 minutes per pair + 10 minutes of post processing. Anticipated rate of production is 5 per hour.
    Material weight: 8.10 grams (@30% infill))

    The cost of each pair is dependent on desired material, but can range from $4.60 to $6.20 per pair. It will take 100 hours to produce 500 units, using all 5 machines working on the same project.
    This includes post-processing.

  • Company B offers production via a mid-sized SLA (Stereolithography) printer with a decent build volume (350mm x 350mm x 300mm). SLA printers use thermoset resins that catalyze when exposed to specific UV radiation like that of a laser. The process is considerably faster than FDM printing and can be less expensive. The finish is much finer than FDM — almost injection-mold quality — but a drawback is limited material choice. Additionally, post-processing may be needed if aesthetic changes (such as pigmentation) are required.

    Production Time: 60 pairs every 171.8 minutes (1 pair every 2.86 minutes). Cleaning and post processing is estimated to add an extra 2 minutes per pair.

    As with FDM, the exact cost of each pair is dependent on the chosen material, but ranges from $3.83 to $5.65 per pair. It would take approximately 40 hours to produce all 500 units using one machine. This includes post-processing.

    Additionally, the SLA producer offers the option of resin casting. In that case, the SLA printer would first create a mold of the desired units, and then cast the units using silicon or urethane.

  • Company C produces parts via an SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) printer. The print size is excellent (380mm x 380mm x 500mm). There are not as many sintering powders in the market as there are SLA resins and thermoplastic filaments. However, SLS machines offer a variety of polyamide and TPU materials that will suit the project’s needs well. SLS printing offers a number of benefits. The powder used acts as a natural support; it is possible to fill the entire build volume in one build with no or minimal component supports. The drawback is that, similar to FDM prints, the final aesthetic of the product reflects the layered build. The print also often feels powdery.

    Production time: All 500 pairs can be produced in one print. It will take 21.1 hours (2.53 minutes per pair). Cooling time adds an additional 14 hours (1.69 minutes per pair).

    Note that the cost per pair is a little tighter because material choice does not vary related costs by a significant amount. It would take approximately 35.5 hours to produce all 500 units using one machine. This includes post processing.

MEANING…

Aesthetics are deemed fairly important in an end-use consumer product and SLA offers a solid combination of aesthetics, speed and price. The final price per pair is $4.74. Packaging and shipping are estimated to add an extra $0.60 per set, or total $5.34 per pair, and $16.02 for 3 sets. New-to-You builds in a 20% margin for unforeseen variables, which increases the price to $19.22. If each set is sold at $25, New-to-You would earn $5.78 — a little more than 30%.

New-to-You decides to proceed with the project, ordering 500 sets of 3. New to You will receive 1,500 pairs at $4.74 each, for a total of $7,110 (not including overheads and incidental cost).

Since most of the company’s business is generated online, New-to-You begins preliminary marketing for the clips.


Day 21

New-to-You takes reception of the 500 full sets. The project was queued for 2 days, and it took the producer 5 days to print. Packing took an extra 3 days plus shipping. Total price works out to $17.62 per set.

Initial marketing efforts have generated interest, and before any clips were received, presales were already at 75 sets. A decent start. Sold units are sent out upon arrival.


DAY 30

The mold ordered by Tried-and-True has been produced, and trial runs have been successful.

While waiting for the mold’s completion, Tried-and-True has reached out to its distributors. The company has successfully managed to pre-sell 100 sets to each of three distributors. Moreover, each distributor expects to order an additional 100 sets within 30 todays.

Not a bad start.


Day 45

Tried-and-True has received its first 1,000 units and has begun distribution.

However. Tried and True has recently become aware that, unfortunately, New-to-You Corp has already entered the same market weeks ago

Fortunately, Tried-and-True‘s production margins allow it flexibility for a promotional effort. Tried-and-True will offer distributors a matching discount to create a special introductory price that will help establish the Tried and True clip in the market. The new introductory price will be $20; both Tried-and-True and its re-sellers agree to share the reduction evenly.

Based on those arrangements, the re-sellers double their initial orders.

New-to-You has received a generally positive response to sales efforts. The company is averaging 75 sets a week with a decent upward growth trend as word spreads. Based on that information, plans are laid out for another 500 to be placed in a week’s time.

In addition to the online sales, one of the other offices has shown some interest and requested samples. But it is not necessary to physically transport samples; instead, a digital file is transferred to the office and they will have a local 3D service provider print the samples for them.

Feedback from end-use clients is beginning to provide some very key insights. Some are asking if New-to-You offers clips that can fit a different safety hat and PPE combination. This same inquiry occurs with sufficient regularity that management decides to investigate further.


Day 60

Dropping the price for the clips from $25 to $20 has been positive in boosting sales and raising interest in the Tried-and-True clip. The company has, of course, kept a close eye on its main competitor and it seems that New-to-You Corp is unwilling or unable to match its $20 promotion price. Tried-and-True decides to extend that price indefinitely.

More good news: The clip’s initial success has motivated additional distributors to come on board and carry the clips.

It certainly seems that the price reduction was the right decision. Yes, it will take longer for the project to break even, but its capacity to reduce pricing should will strengthen Tried-and-True‘s efforts to achieve market dominance with respect to PPE safety clips.

Tried-and-True’s lower price point has taken the edge off the increased sales of the clips for New-to-You. Rather than growing to 100 sets per week as had been hoped, New-to-You continues to average 75 a week. While the end production cost of the first batch of 500 was a little less than anticipated, the company finds it does not have the margin to match Tried-and-True’s introductory pricing generally. It does agree to price match on a case by case basis for customers who request it.

Investigations into production of an alternative clip variation have yielded an interesting opportunity.

The general geometry and size of these clips is roughly the same as the first, so production costs would likely be flat. Company B, which had produced the first design for New-to-You, is willing to produce a smaller run of these clips concurrently with the the next order of the first design, with no extra tooling cost.

New-to-You sees a market advantage here. It can now offer a more diverse line of products at little to no tooling cost.


CONCLUSIONS

These examples can be carried on at length! But of course, the further into the future they are projected the more speculative such examples become. Obviously, production and costing are not the only factors in a product’s success.

That acknowledged, two broad differences can be identified.

CAPITAL-INTENSIVE TOOLING

with PRICING FLEXIBILITY

Injection molding is the most efficient means of mass-producing polymer components, hands down. A company willing and able to front the tooling capital cost likely finds itself in the enviable position of being able to produce a desired component very quickly, and very inexpensively.

However, design complexity is one of the main drivers of mold cost. Additionally, the design is more static; changes to the product require the expensive production of a new mold.

REDUCED MARGIN

with DESIGN FLEXIBILITY

While some 3D printing mediums are able to produce much faster than most people realize, it is unlikely that 3D printing will overcome injection molding anytime soon, either by way of speed or cost of production.

But it may not have to.

Mediums like SLA and SLS already offer a decent production speed and a growing array of available materials. These mediums are capable of highly complex design — and efficient iterations of that design — at a fraction of the costs associated with injection molding. For many companies, 3D printing is the intelligent choice.


NEW PRODUCT: EINSCAN HX

Based on years of 3D measurement experience and market demand, SHINING 3D innovatively integrates blue LED light and blue laser into EinScan HX handheld 3D scanner. The hybrid laser and LED light sources make EinScan HX compatible with a wider range of object sizes, meeting multiple needs of users. High efficiency and reliable result give EinScan HX more application possibilities.

Hybrid Blue Laser & LED Light

Innovatively integrated with dual blue LED light and blue laser, improves scanning materials adaptability with less limitation for a wider range of applications. LED light scanning allows rapid 3D scanning. Laser scanning, which is less sensitive to ambient light, gives better performance to reflective and dark color surface.

Reliable Results

The high resolution and accuracy meet the needs of most industrial applications for reverse engineering and measuring.

Minimum point distance 0.05 mm

Accuracy up to 0.04 mm under Laser Scan

High Efficiency

Processing speed of EinScan HX under Rapid Scan Mode is up to1,200,000 points/s, and multiple blue laser lines under Laser Scan Mode makes scanning of most objects in minutes for reverse engineering, CAD/CAM, 3D printing and etc.

Portable & Easy Operation

EinScan HX is plug and play with user friendly software, which is easy to operate, no matter you are newbie or with professional experience in 3D scanning. The portability and flexibility use of EinScan HX has been considered to its ergonomic design for a more efficient and comfortable scanning experience.

Ergonomic Design

Weight:710g

Full Color

With built-in color camera, it supports

full color texture capturing and tracking by texture.

EinScan HX Reverse Engineering Design Bundle

A hybrid light source 3D scanner with reverse engineering and CAD capabilities.

For more information, and how to purchase, contact us

BACK TO MAIN PAGE

Complexity Made Simple

Exhaust pipes are an auto component few of us ever think about…until a faulty one wakes up the neighborhood!

Despite it’s low profile, the exhaust pipe is an important part of vehicle performance. It not only dampens engine noise, but the flow of gases emitted from the vehicle also affects overall vehicle performance. Traditional design and production process for mufflers requires the formation of components that must be soldered together through a variety of steps. The need for soldering requires a relatively simple design. The automotive industry must create hundreds of thousands of exhaust pipes every year, so design must bow to mass production.

The end result of simple exhaust pipe design is inefficient air flow and power loss. Engine operation is less efficient than might otherwise be possible.

Can the exhaust pipe be improved?

Absolutely. Customers wanting to enhance their vehicles by investing in performance muffler systems can absolutely do so…at a cost. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, more efficient exhaust pipe designs are correspondingly more complex and have proven too difficult and costly to produce in the numbers required.

Until now.

The situation

Most mufflers are reactive, or reflective. That is to say, that they create backpressure to cancel out most of the sound created by the engine, and this is what causes performance loss. As you can see from the picture on the left, a typical exhaust pipe consists of four key components: the intake pipe, resonating chamber, perforated pipes and the outtake – exhaust – pipe. Gases are taken into the muffler via the intake pipe. Most of the engine sound is cancelled out in the resonating chamber before the gases are pushed out into the perforated pipes which deals with low frequency noise before final exhaust.

The less gases are forced to undergo directional changes (creating backpressure), the less the effect will be on performance. Thus if gases are allowed to free flow straight through a muffler, performance will be unimpeded.

The challenge and solution

The challenge is how to create a free-flow dissipative muffler that will still absorb as much sound as possible.

Working with a third party autoparts manufacturer, Shining 3D has successfully developed and customized a 3D printed auto exhaust pipe. As you have likely already guessed, the new device is created using additive manufacturing, which has allowed a more complex geometry to be introduced to the design.

1. First, Shining 3D designed a 3D model using Rhino (a professional design software). The internal structure of the new exhaust pipe would be optimized by 3D printing technology. It would be smaller but greatly increase operation efficiency.

2. Next, a prototype was created using SLA 3D printing technology. Shining 3D used the SLA-A line of 3D printers to accomplish this, and allowed for inexpensive, preliminary product testing and initial client feedback which would then result in more effective collaboration toward the end product.

3. Once the final design was decided, Shining 3D received approval and a product order. Production of the final print using stainless steel, was achieved using the EP-M250 printers.

How is it different from the one in your vehicle?

Cross section of the new AM built muffler

1. It has a more powerful acoustic wave. If that description sounds cool, so does the result. Because its structural design has been optimized, the new exhaust pipe is much more powerful than conventional models — and you can hear it.

2. It weighs less. By about 67%.

3. It has a power guarantee. When a vehicle is operating at high speeds, if the exhaust pipe cannot fully emit the exhaust gas, the engine’s power output decreases. However, the new 3D printed model efficiently channels exhaust outside the vehicle. Engine power is maximized.

Outside profile view

This new exhaust pipe design already has proven so successful that Ford Motor Company intends to install it in the Mustang for trial assembly. The sales order was thereby expedited and Ford Motor Company could receive delivery of the exhaust pipes sooner.

It’s not just purr. It’s power, baby, and the exhaust pipe of the future.

Score another win for additive manufacturing and Shining 3D!

The Coming Wave

 

What do all of the companies to the left have in common? 

All have integrated additive manufacturing into their business operations! 

Of course these are large corporations, but an increasing number of sole proprietorships are coming to appreciate the advantages additive manufacturing offers them.  Certainly, this technology is a boon to the auto and airplane maker, but not less so to the local plumber down the street. 

No matter what your business produces, no matter how large or small your organization, additive manufacturing can streamline your processes and save you money.

Why is this?

BENEFITS OF ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING (AM)

Additive manufacturing (AM) is an innovation in manufacturing processes that mitigates existing production and product development trade-offs.  The result? Reduced capital is required to affect scale and scope of production.

  • SCALE
    • Less capital is required to achieve economies of scale. 
    • Barriers to entry into a given product market are lowered. 
    • Return on investment is maximized.
  • SCOPE
    • Greater production flexibility and product customization is available per unit of capital. 
    • Marketplace differentiation is maximized. 

That’s the big picture!

Multinational Ikea is investing heavily into 3D printing to customize products for customers.
Startups are using additive manufacturing to offset capital expenses.
Established independent contractors are using additive to create innovative solutions for their clients.

More specifically, here are some of the ways AM can impact producers:

  • AM streamlines scheduling efficiencies
    • Rapid prototyping: Traditionally, prototype development involves custom tooling, coordination with external suppliers, and multiple hand-offs. Along with the delays, there is risk of miscommunication. AM largely eliminates these delays and risks.
    • Rapid design iteration: Reworking of a design ordinarily involves substantial effort and time since the production process must start again from the beginning. AM allows for seamless prototype creation and expedites design iteration.
    • Strategic alignment: 3D printing new product designs not only enables technical validation, but also accelerates your organization’s alignment on that new design—a key success factor, but often overlooked.
  • AM reduces costs
    • Less need for outsourcing: Traditional manufacturing methods (including creating manufacturing prints and layouts, programming CNC machines, and designing tooling) have historically defined the cost structure. However, with AM, prototypes can now be created inexpensively and in-house, without need for change orders.
    • Material reduction: Elimination of scrap and tooling often offset the higher per-volume costs of raw materials. AM can therefore dramatically reduce a prototype’s total material cost.
  • AM enhances product
    • Iterative design: Accelerated prototyping means more design and review cycles during product development.
    • Designer empowerment: Faster and cheaper prototyping reduces barriers to testing new product concepts. This cultivates innovation.
    • Stakeholder input: Because AM allows in-house product development, stakeholders inside and outside the company can more easily discourse with the designer and each other.
    • Market responsiveness: Producers can respond faster to market and customer demands, fix design flaws, and counter the competition.
  • AM simplifies manufacturing
    • Improved part characteristics: A design’s geometric complexity can be improved without great expense.  In-house designers can incorporate complex curvatures, nonstandard and varying wall thicknesses, and low-density volumetric filling easily and inexpensively.
    • Customer-specific product creation: Product iterations can be made-to-order for a given customer.
    • Decreased system complexity:  Components that previously needed assembly can often be 3D printed as a single unit — reducing system complexity and enhancing quality.
    • Nontraditional sources of design information: As product designs become increasingly digitized, opportunities for reverse engineering increase.
  • AM Reduces Constraints
    • Production location: Design and manufacturing can now happen virtually anywhere. Companies can dramatically reduce the cost and logistics of moving products from manufacturing locations to end users.
    • Tooling constraints: Product design is no longer constrained by mold and tooling requirements. The design process is now accessible and there is headway for invention.
    • Batch size: A truly single-unit minimum batch size allows on-the-spot production of short-run components as users wear them down in the field or imagine ways to customize them.
    • Waste: Material waste is minimized as designers and manufacturers find ways to complete tasks with less material and energy, and as AM components replace tooled parts.

It’s an impressive list, isn’t it? 

With such a vast array of benefits, you might be asking yourself how and where AM would fit within your organization. 

The introduction and effective use of of a new process is not merely a matter of an equipment purchase. i3D can walk you though a Seven-Step Assessment to help determine where additive manufacturing can best fit in your organization. We will help you maximize its benefits within your organization so you can chart a path to the future.


Additive Manufacturing in the Age of Covid-19

 

3D Printing for Healthcare: Advantages & Cautionary Notes

You don’t need to be a news junkie to know the background.

On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. Within days, country after country came face to face with the stark reality that it was completely unprepared for the task ahead. The global shortage of medical supplies and personal protection equipment (PPE) continues to make headlines as governments scramble to obtain desperately needed equipment.  Reactions from various countries have ranged from extreme rationing to assignment of emergency powers. 

Among the too-few positive news items of this new era is the staggering philanthropic response of the global 3D printing community. Within days, if not hours, designers had uploaded digital files of 3D-printable PPE; much of this is free and available to anyone with a 3D printer and a desire to help. Some of the more popular designs (the Prusa face shield, for example, or the Copper 3D Nanohack mask) have seen thousands of downloads, and hundreds of thousands of prints and donations to regional health authorities.

Some of the most powerful benefits of additive manufacturing are now on full display.  One current example illustrates this especially well: The American government contracted a 3D printing company to deliver 1,000 specially designed clips for disinfectant spray carriers.  Originally these components had been injection-molded, but they had been rendered obsolete by the original manufacturer and medical authorities urgently needed an alternative.  Within 48 hours, new clips were designed, approved, produced and post-processed at a final cost approaching only $1.00/component.

These are, after all, the benefits additive manufacturing promises:

  • Rapid prototyping
  • Iterative improvements
  • Quick turnaround time
  • Little to no capital requirement
  • No minimum batch size

But wait. All these benefits and no drawbacks?

The technology is indeed revolutionary in its capacity to meet urgent demands such as those medical facilities now face. But yes, there are drawbacks to the application of additive manufacturing to health care needs in the current crisis. It is precisely because the technology is so new and not widely understood that it can sometimes be used to create products that are actually poorly suited to their intended use.

At i3D, we applaud all those pitching in to help. We do however believe a few cautionary notes are in order, and they pertain to guidelines and standards.

In the first weeks of the pandemic, most of the designs produced and made available over the internet were created with little to no oversight from (or even consultation with) the medical community. Obviously medical authorities need to be certain that donated items will perform to medical standards for design. In a healthcare setting, not just any face mask design will do.

Suitable design is not the only consideration, however. Material must also be relevant to the end use setting and needs. For example, the vast majority of 3D-printed PPE was produced by enthusiastic members of the 3D printing community in the most commonly available FDM polymers: polylactic acid (PLA) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). However, these polymers cannot be subjected to many widely used sterilization protocols in clinical settings. (This is only very recently changing, as we discuss HERE.) Consequently, healthcare institutions have been understandably reticent to accept some PPE donations. Those that were accepted by medical institutions were mostly designated single-use plastics. (Recyclable of course. But.)

So knowing healthcare requirements for these prints is essential. This will allow us, as a community, to provide materials that are truly effective in the fight against COVID-19 — and truly beneficial to frontline workers.


3D Printing and the Supply Chain Concern

The most current news of the hour is the potential jeopardy of value and supply chains and how that may threaten the way we live and do business for months to come.

In this context, the value of integrating additive and digital manufacturing technologies is now in sharp focus. Digital manufacturing refers to automated manufacturing and can include any CNC device including lathes, cutters, breaks, etc. (Additive manufacturing, 3D printing, is a sub-category of digital manufacturing.  For a short primer of the additive process, click here.) 

Can additive manufacturing help resolve supply chain concerns?

Without a doubt.

Let’s look at how the unique benefits of 3D printing can be part of the solution.

Efficient Supply Chains

Additive manufacturing gives us ‘Just-in-Time’ production in the most literal sense.  Production of key components can be localized, and delivery can be just hours or days away. Moreover, digital manufacturing can reduce costs connected to overstocking and associated risk as suppliers gain better insight into supply chain issues (e.g. inventory levels, delivery status and demand cycles).

How?

Digital storage and transmission of design files for parts, components and products allows for production WHEN needed, WHERE needed. (The Prusa face shield, for example, was developed in Czechoslovakia, but they are being printed all over the world.) 

Similarly, parts suppliers in remote locations (such as Fort McMurray, AB, or Juneau, AK, or smaller islands, for example), can literally download an approved file and have the part(s) ready to deliver within hours.

No storage, no shipping. Reduced overhead and reduced wait. That can spell relief in times of crisis.

Efficient Innovation

Design collaboration and improvement is simplified and faster.

An example: the Nanohack mask.

Within days of the pandemic being officially declared, Copper 3D released the Nanohack 1.0 mask.  The Nanohack design adopted an innovative means of blending the benefits of Copper 3D’s core strength – its unique antibacterial filament – with the properties of the base polymer, in this case PLA.  The design could be printed flat on a build plate, and then thermoformed with relative ease to fit the wearer’s face. A great start! But over the following days, some limitations became apparent (mostly the difficulty achieving proper sealing and of insufficient airflow with the lone vent). Feedback from the medical community and other 3D designers quickly birthed the Nanohack 2.0, a considerable improvement over the first iteration.

In addition to human feedback and input into the design process, digital manufacturing also allows for predictive analytics, machine learning, connectivity and 3D modeling. All invaluable tools in a continuous cycle of development and innovation.

 

Efficient Operations

Automated, cloud-based solutions streamline processes and improve product quality. Analytics are more accessible, reducing costly rework and downtime. Detailed product representations are possible, performance monitoring is simplified and delivery to the market is expedited.

Efficient Use of Resources

The additive manufacturing process is inherently ‘lean’ and ‘green’.  Incrementally building a part ‘up and out’ – layer by layer – ensures that only the right amount of material is used. This stands in stark contrast to subtractive manufacturing processes which generally result in a fair amount of waste. A CNC lathe making a spindle or a gun barrel creates a mound of waste metal chips (“swarf”; our word for the day!) These chips are not easily recyclable as they are contaminated with cutting fluid and often cross-contaminated with other metals.

 

 

 

 

This is one of dozens of PPE related files that have come available online throughout the world. This one is available through the US Department of Health’s digital warehouse, where they have been accepting proposed PPE and submitting them for testing and approval.

A Call to Action…

Additive manufacturing is beginning to flex its muscles. The days of watching multi-hour FDM prints and questioning reliability and production capacity are fading fast, and are being instead replaced with ‘what’ and ‘how many?’

In order to unleash the full potential of additive manufacturing however, industry and use-specific standards must be developed. When additive manufacturing is used simply for prototyping or non-functional components, designers are free to use whatever settings and materials they deem most suitable. However, where additive manufacturing is producing functional end-use components, industry standards are needed to ensure safety and performance. Organizations such as ASTM, ASME and the FDA have done significant work already in standards development for additive manufacturing.  However the sheer breadth of applications for additive technologies, the seemingly constant addition of new methods and new materials all present moving targets.

Is your business looking to create end-use products for health care institutions or otherwise? It will be worthwhile to invest a little time researching needs. Identify any industry standards that may already be in place and go on to ensure that materials and design meet the needs of the end-user and the governing body’s requirements.


Can you see the potential for additive manufacturing to step up to the plate to address the risk to your own supply chain? We’d love to talk with you about how your business or organization can boost efficiency by integrating additive manufacturing into your operations.

GAME CHANGER? 3D Printing and the War on Germs


Sterilization2.jpgSterilization2.jpg

Perhaps more than ever before, those of us who are not medically trained are coming to understand the necessity of disinfecting high-use items in order to prevent the rampant spread of viruses.

Clinical sterilization is even more critical in the maintenance of medical implements. Clinical sterilization processes must eliminate, remove, kill, or deactivate ALL forms of microorganisms and biological agents from medical tools and devices (including fungi, bacteria, viruses, spores, unicellular eukaryotic organisms and prions). There are a number of physical and chemical processes used in health care facilities to achieve sterilization: pressurized steam, dry heat, ethylene oxide gas, hydrogen peroxide gas plasma, and chemical solutions.

Items printed in common polymers like PLA and PETG simply cannot withstand traditional clinical sterilization processes.

Until now, this has rendered them at best into disposable one-use items and severely limited the utility of 3D printed medical components. (Note: It should be said that if you print a mask using one of these filaments using the 3D printer in your basement, you can use warm water and soap to disinfect it fairly effectively between uses. But boiling or bleaching may damage the integrity of the mask. And of course, hospitals have far more stringent sterilization requirements.)

The good news is that a new sterilization protocol may allow personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical personnel, and medical devices made with these filaments, to achieve clinical sterilization. Advanced Sterilization Processes (ASP) , in collaboration with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed a the new protocol for their STERRAD® Sterilizers. The STERRAD System uses hydrogen peroxide gas (H2O2) at relatively low temperature settings (only 50 degrees Celsius) to achieve sterilization. This allows implements made with polylactic acid (PLA) and polyethylene (PET) to be sterilized effectively. Both materials are resistant to H2O2, and have a glass transition points in excess of 50 degrees and so are not adversely affected by high temperatures.

It is no exaggeration to say that this could be a game-changer. Specialty filaments are now not necessarily required. The result? It is now faster, easier and cheaper for medical institutions and others to mass-produce PPE that can be used and re-used.

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