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Industry News|Design Considerations for Metal 3D Printing

Date: 2019-10-17
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With increased confidence in 3D printing, more design engineers are looking to see where new processes could add a competitive edge. While cost associated with 3D printing is reducing, metal printing could still be a large capital expense. 


Additionally, 3D printing metal still has many variables and controls that inhibit the process from being user-friendly. With a relatively large investment and the need for knowledge, design engineers might shy from printing in metal.


Some initial benefits 3D printing metal or plastic is the ability to generate geometries not possible with other processes. Additionally, interior channels, combining multiple parts into one, optimizing geometries, improving functionality, reduced tooling, and increasing flexibility are some of the thoughts that may be in a design engineer’s mind. But there are also other indirect benefits of 3D printing to consider.


With increased confidence in 3D printing, more design engineers are looking to see where new processes could add a competitive edge. While cost associated with 3D printing is reducing, metal printing could still be a large capital expense. Additionally, 3D printing metal still has many variables and controls that inhibit the process from being user-friendly. With a relatively large investment and the need for knowledge, design engineers might shy from printing in metal.


Some initial benefits 3D printing metal or plastic is the ability to generate geometries not possible with other processes. Additionally, interior channels, combining multiple parts into one, optimizing geometries, improving functionality, reduced tooling, and increasing flexibility are some of the thoughts that may be in a design engineer’s mind. But there are also other indirect benefits of 3D printing to consider.  


Long lead times: If downtime costs are extremely high because of lead times on parts or tooling, 3D printing could offer a solution. Specifically for tooling, design engineers can eliminate or reduce time by printing the part directly, or printing the tooling.


High inventory costs: 3D printing allows for on-demand production, reducing the need for inventory.


Sole-sourced from suppliers: By qualifying parts for 3D printing, companies will no longer be as reliant on suppliers.


Remote locations: when remote locations restrict delivery of parts, on-site 3D printing can eliminate delivery times.


High import/export costs: On-site 3D printing production also eliminates high import/export cost.


With a focus on metal printing design keeping cost in mind is important. It is important engineers understand what’s the difference between metal 3D printing processes? Different processes might have different abilities, material options, and even variable material properties. Design could great increase or decrease post-processing time and cost. Specifically with the powder bed processes, post-processing can easily take more time and cost than the printing process. The following will look at some of the benefits and limitations to keep in mind when considering designing with direct energy metal powder bed 3D printing. 


Design Considerations


It is important to understand 3D printing is an evolving industry. The machines from five years ago might not have the same capabilities as newer equipment. Guides from years ago, or from different brands can have various design parameters. For example, if an expert says support structures are needed for an overhang of 30 deg. while another expert says it doesn’t, this conflict could be due to the age or type of equipment, or even the type of material that is being used. If design limitations or possibilities change, make sure you ask why. 


It is important to understand that there is a difference between sintering and melting. Sintering normally uses a lower power laser. The energy is enough to compact, but not melt the powder. This might also be a term that is lost in hype and marketing, so it is important to understand whether a company offers sintering, melting, or both.


Some aspects of design will not change when moving into 3D printing design. Engineering fundamentals such as stress consecrations exist in the design and will not change based on process. If a part breaks don’t assume it was the 3D printing process that was the problem. There are differences between designing for metal 3D printing than casting or CNC machining. For example, subtractive processes tend to have sharp corners where 3D printing would benefit from progressive build-up such as fillets or chamfers on edges or corners. Progressive build ups also relate to reducing downward facing surfaces and support structures where possible. These changes to design will be covered in more detail later.


More specific considerations in 3D design starts with CAD software. Just like traditional design, designing and testing parts in the software first can save a lot of time and money. This can be more important when moving into metal 3D printing.


Do as much planning digitally to prevent failures. Especially when printing metal as it is more expensive than other processes. Failed prints waste the powder on the failed part. Additionally, depending on the material, the unsolidified powder will need to be replaced or recycled which involves filtering it and adding some virgin content to ensure materials properties are maintained. Design engineers need to understand the cost and loss of time associated with failed prints. Setting up a process to check and double check CAD files and code on a new print is worth the additional time.   


Via: https://www.machinedesign.com/

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