We all know that the more materials can be 3D printed the more applications for additive manufacturing (AM) are possible. That’s a clear, recognized (and ongoing) need. However, in order to make AM accessible and usable to as many companies as possible there are additional needs related to materials – perfect for an #AMneeds exploration. Here we go.
The Devil is in the (Process) Details
When we covered AM metal material properties, EOS‘s Sascha Rudolph mentioned that for AM there is no simple datasheet. The final part material properties depend not only on the raw material and technology used but also on the specific process and settings used. This is true for machine settings as well as post processing – even for FDM processes there are recommended steps for particular materials, like polypropylene (in this case advice from Simplify3D). Already today, there are companies, like PrintSyst and Castor (both are Israeli start ups – respect!), that can recommend the best technology and material for a given design and traditional manufacturing material. This is a great start but, as Rudolph said, more is needed. It would be great if the whole package could come out automatically. This is not an easy request as there are many characteristics and currently the way to ascertain the material properties resulting from various processing protocols is to actually test the item and some of these tests are destructive and even expensive and performing them for various processes is an investment. Perhaps there is room for simulation software that would provide guidance, if not definitive information in this regard. This is just one example of why AM expertise is difficult to come by and very valuable.
Bottom Line Matters
The other thing that is always welcome, aside from additional materials, is cost reduction. AM raw materials are, on average, much more expensive than their “traditional” counterpart. Therefore, some companies focus on not wasting any – recuperating powder, for example. As explained above, the AM process changes the material properties in a different (and more variable) way than traditional manufacturing, such as casting or injection molding. This means that to get to the exact same end part material properties you probably need to start from a different raw material than the traditional method. Imagine if the process choices and settings could be found with which the traditional raw material results in the same final part properties as traditional injection molding, for example. This would be huge cost reduction across the board for all parts with these properties and would be a game changer. An important #AMneed for material specialists to tackle.
Latest and Greatest
The last thing to consider this time, is what to do with all these very specific processes and settings. To some extent, LEO Recipes can help, as they allow the expertise to be encapsulated and securely shared without revealing it. However, there is also the issue of matching recipes with specific geometries – this requires less expertise than creating the recipe but it is not always so easy. The part owner could learn to do this but so could an algorithm especially if it’s coupled with some machine learning and testing results (to close the loop). Perhaps the need here is similar to doing part identification from a catalog of parts, but this time look for an automatic best of breed solution for a particular part. The solution must include all the process details and settings appropriate for this particular part, taking advantage of the latest and greatest expertise available. Some 3D printer manufacturers are already thinking about this.
When it comes to materials, there is always much to do in AM and we only gave 3 examples of needs that are usually not highlighted. Of course, there are more especially in the case where a change of material is possible but that’s for another post.
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