Leading materials specialist Henkel has revealed how it’s increasingly utilizing data to help its 3D printing customers overcome the variability of the resin 3D printing workflow.
Henkel originally entered the 3D printing space in 2017 and has since built an impressive portfolio of photopolymer materials that many OEM partners have adopted. Digital Light Processing (DLP) 3D printing continues to gain traction for end-use part production due to its unique ability to produce complex parts with smooth surface finishes and desired mechanical properties. However, Henkel acknowledges that end-users still experience a sufficient learning curve as this technology becomes more widely adopted. To support the technology’s adoption, Henkel is using data as a type of currency. To bring additional value, the company has begun testing its resins against established standards and invested in expediting its material qualification using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Data as a ‘currency’ in 3D printing
Henkel considers data to be so vital that it actually sees it as a ‘currency’ in the 3D printing industry, which enables users to assess how a given part will perform before it ever leaves the build area. This is particularly important when it comes to creating end-use components that are likely to be exposed to elements capable of causing them to fail.
So, how does Henkel help 3D printing users ensure their parts perform as expected? The company has largely focused on bringing value to the industry by publishing more data around end-part performance.
Ahead of Formnext 2022, for instance, Henkel added new pages to the technical data sheets behind many of its most popular 3D printing materials, including Loctite 3D 3843. Having increased its lab testing capabilities, the company now subjects its polymers to expanded testing standards, including those around heat aging, accelerated weathering, chemical resistance, UV aging, and temperature variability.
Utilizing this data, which has been made public in the form of technical data sheets, Henkel anticipates resin 3D printing adopters being better able to assess whether printing with its photopolymer materials will help them address desired end-use applications.
Henkel’s workflow validation goals
Henkel also sees each step in the resin 3D printing workflow as a potential disruptor to the process’ (what it?) repeatability and predictability. These steps could include anything from system settings to the introduction of cleaning fluids or post-curing, each of which can cause ambiguity. With this in mind, Henkel sees workflow validation as the best way of accounting for such variables.
In practice, the company conducts its own in-house workflow validations (covering more than 60 individual process parameters) in which materials are used to produce test specimens with certain machines, cleaning methods, and curing methods. The resulting data is then used to ensure that the polymer met a desired set of mechanical properties. With this method, the company says it aims to provide users with a ‘vote of confidence’ that resins will work as required.
Interestingly, while some other material players in the industry keep workflow validation testing data to themselves, Henkel makes its findings publicly available for all to see. In fact, the Henkel Loctite Printer & Post Processing Settings page allows users to select a machine from a list of OEMs, as well as a material, color, cleaning solution, and curing station, for a given build.
Leveraging this site functionality, Henkel users are effectively able to generate a ‘recipe’ for their 3D printing process, including parameters like layer height, length of washing time, and part flips during post-processing, which helps them through material qualification, a process that’s essential to manufacturing consistent quality parts at any sort of scale.
Those seeking further reassurance would be pleased to know that Henkel also works directly with 3D Printer OEMs developing 380-405 nanometer systems, to make sure its materials perform as expected. In a recent example of this, the company worked with Prusa on the Prusa SL1S SPEED system. Working collaboratively, Prusa printed various test specimens, which were then shipped to Loctite 3D Printing test center for validation of mechanical properties. With printing parameters clearly identified and mechanical properties verified, end-users can maximize their results with Loctite materials.
AI: the future of 3D printing validation?
In an effort to enhance its own material development workflow, Henkel has turned to advanced design tools such as ‘Albert.’ Essentially, the company’s cloud-based AI system collects and shares data points from all its facilities around the world. Using this platform, Henkel’s research engineers are now able to seamlessly share findings, and remotely utilize those of colleagues to make informed R&D judgments.
Using this dataset, built around every sample and formulation that Henkel develops, Albert can also accelerate new product launches. The system does so by harmonizing materials research and design of experiment acceleration. It can also provide users with instant cost estimations, safety evaluations, and updates on ingredient availability. Additionally, the tool often delivers real-time formulation and testing advice to ensure high-speed development and consistent results.
To date, Albert has trained with over 3 million datasets across Henkel, with over 900,000 of those data points coming from the 3D Printing business, and the system continues to learn everyday. One of the software’s highest-profile applications saw it deployed alongside Stratasys-owned 3D printer manufacturer Origin, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
As part of the initiative, Albert rapidly sifted through 16,000 different resin formulations to find the best one for 3D printing nasal swabs. In helping Origin find this ‘needle in a haystack,’ the software accelerated the process of meeting a need for mass-produced COVID-19 testing devices, which at the time was in very short supply.
By adding additional currency to the 3D printing industry in the form of expanded technical data, clear workflow guidance spanning the entire 3D process, and leveraging machine learning to support new product development, Henkel aims to continue to support the Additive Manufacturing industry at large in adopting DLP technology more widely.
More information about the firm’s 3D printing offering and opportunities to collaborate on material development can be found via the Loctite 3D Printing website. Alternatively, interested parties can contact Henkel here
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Featured image shows Loctite 3D printing resins. Photo via Henkel.