A frequent topic of discussion during last week’s formnext event was the progression of additive manufacturing towards production.
The opening keynote address by Terry Wohlers addressed a pressing need to lower material costs, important if 3D printing was not to remain solely the preserve of prototypes and low volume, high value manufacturing.
Materialise may have found a different approach.
Users of Materialise Magics 3D Print Suite will already be familiar with e-Stage for SLA and DLP 3D printers. Now metal additive manufacturing systems will able to benefit from the software tool as Materialise makes e-Stage available for metal 3D printing.
e-Stage for metal is a patented innovation that automatically generates support structures for metal components. Speaking during formnext, Stefaan Motte, VP Software at Materialise, explained how he anticipated the software tool would, “change the lives of customers”.
Motte reminded the audience that e-Stage for SLA and DLP was saving an average of 2 hours per build with 55% of large format SLA machines 3D printing with the tool and a customer renewal rate of 99% – indicating a high level of satisfied customers.
Koen Neutjens, Product Manager e-Stage, introduced some of the features that Materialise hopes will see a similar success in the metal additive manufacturing market.
Materialise e-Stage for metal
Support design can be performed automatically with e-Stage for metal. Using a proprietary algorithm data preparation time for metal builds can be reduced by up to 90%. Recognizing that metal 3D printing is not a monolithic technology, the algorithm can be customized to account for specific parameters including machine, material and part geometry.
“The time savings delivered by the automated generation of metal supports enables engineers to focus on other tasks. The elimination of manual work makes the process much more reliable and efficient, which allows us to meet increased customer demands,” explains Ingo Uckelmann, Technical Manager of Metal 3D Printing, at Materialise Bremen.
The resulting intricate support structures generated by e-Stage provide several additional advantages. First, finishing time can be reduced by 50%. This is because, as the video below demonstrates, supports are significantly easier to remove. By minimizing the contact area of the support and 3D printed component, less effort is required for separation – a task often involving expensive wire cutting equipment.
Other approaches to removing metal supports from 3D prints include academic research looking at dissolvable metal supports and Desktop Metal’s use of a ceramic layer – that after sintering are brittle enough to snap off by hand.
Second, the supports generated by e-Stage are designed not to trap metal powder. Materialise says that, “nearly all of the expensive metal powder trapped in the support structures can now be recovered.” This means that a powder saving rate of up to 20% per build is possible, a significant cost saving when spherical metal powders such a titanium can reach prices of $400 per kilo.
2 year project is “important step towards reduced printing costs”
Even with almost 30 years experience in the 3D printing industry, Materialise don’t like to rush things and e-Stage for metal has been in development for approximately 2 years. The development has has taken 2 years and involved testing with 7 companies to ensure that a reliable tool was released.
AIRBUS APWORKS, were one of the beta testers for Materialise e-Stage for Metal. In a statement the company said, “Using e-Stage supports for Metal AM brings good improvements compared to traditional supporting methods. We, at AIRBUS APWORKS GmbH, are convinced about the e-Stage potential to reduce powder consumption, reduce post-processing time, increase build job speed while still guaranteeing a high build stability. This is an important step towards reduced printing costs.”
The automated support generation is available for titanium, aluminum and stainless steel parts and more information can be found here.
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Featured image shows Materialise e-Stage for metal 3D printing at formnext 2017. Photo by Michael Petch.