The Additive Manufacturing ProcessThe 8 step process that improves additive manufacturing output
A common misconception with those considering Additive Manufacturing to produce their parts, often driven by a cost reduction mindset, is that they can take existing part models and produce parts using these.
In fact, there is an 8 step process that we deploy to ensure that the parts manufactured using an AM process are optimised to deliver the best results at the best price.
Its primary function is to take into consideration that the Additive Manufacturing is a different manufacturing method to more traditional techniques, and just as parts are designed for a particular technique in industry today, AM is no different.
In order to capitalise on the benefits of AM it requires a full design process.
1: Application Specification
Understand what the required outputs are for a particular application and the stresses, processes, and positioning when in situ.
Going back to the application and what it is you’re trying to achieve opens up the freedom to design a solution that may not have previously been considered.
Is there a space constraint, a weight optimisation, or an assembly replacement that can be delivered through additive manufacturing?
2: Design for Additive Manufacturing (DFAM)
By understanding the fundamentals of the application we can deploy a design for additive manufacturing approach.
This design methodology can determine the minimum required design to meet the criteria (looking organic in nature), how the part will be printed, the best position for the print, and the required support structures needed for the build.
Design for additive manufacturing is a subject in its own right just as design for manufacture is. By understanding how to optimise a design by leveraging the many opportunities given by additive manufacturing you can then create solutions that change your application potential.
3: First Print
Moving from design to print, we first deploy a primary print test. Due to the multiple interlocking factors such as pressure, profile, temperature, material expansion, stress, we need to run through a primary print to understand how the process will impact the design.
Our expertise in Design for Additive Manufacturing gets us close to the finished product quicker, but its our knowledge of the variabilities within the manufacturing process that will get us to the specification meeting acceptance stage far quicker.
Once we’ve run through our first test print, we’ll visually inspect to measure the accuracy to design and allowable tolerances.
4: Design Optimisation
Following the first print and inspection, the design is optimised to take into consideration any findings. As a result of the primary print the aim is to ensure that the second print delivers an acceptable product that meets specification.
Considerations to be taken into account are heat profiles, stress hotspots, structure supports, laser mapping, temperature, speed.
5: Second Print Test
Following the design modifications, a second print run is completed with a primary aim of delivering the finished part.
Many Additive Manufacturing service providers can run up to 5 print tests and modifications before they get it right, ultimately adding to the cost of using additive manufacturing as the technique of choice.
The print test is followed again by a full inspection to determine acceptance against the specification.
6: Print Run
Once successful in manufacturing the correct part the full print run can be started.
We run our SLM 280 machine 24 hours a day, and depending on the part profile we can print 2 parts at a time which dramatically increases our output potential at shorter lead times. The design of the part determines how long the print will take.
Engineers monitor the progress of the print, ensuring that the variable factors such as temperature, speed, material defects, are all controlled to ensure consistent quality across all parts manufactured.
7: Post Print Finishing
What is often glossed over when discussing additive manufacturing is the post-print processing / finishing.
Depending on the material this can be surface finish machining, binding agent curing, resing hardening, support structure removal. All of which takes additional skils and tools to complete to the highest standard.
Our extensive history of working with F1 teams in creating precision engineered components for their race cars, alongside other performance applications, means that the post-print finishing can be done in-house by our team, rather than being sent to another 3rd party for completion.
8: Final Inspection
The final part of the process is the inspection. The level of inspection is determined by the application and the environment the parts will be exposed to, and can range from visual, liquid penetrant, up to destructive testing of a sample of parts.
All to ensure that the parts are fit for purpose and aligned to the specification of the design.