The additive manufacturing production process comprises two main stages: the initial manufacturing stage and the post-processing stage. Once a part has been printed, it’s not enough to just package it up and send it off to a client. The supports must be removed, the scarring must be sanded down, and the surface might even need additional finishing depending on the application.
The post-processing stage goes beyond just adding an aesthetic touch, as it can also add functionality to a part. The problem is: it’s still a highly manual and tedious process. It requires a technician sitting at a desk with a set of hand tools to finish the part to an industry-ready standard.
This is where post-processing companies come in. These organisations exist to maintain an acceptable throughput across the whole 3D printing workflow, transforming a bottleneck into a complement. With automated systems that are improving year-on-year, global post-processing specialists help AM to scale up, bringing it ever-closer to being a worthy competitor to traditional manufacturing.
The colourful world of AM
There are companies out there that post-process 3D printed polymer parts to be more aesthetically pleasing, making them all the more suitable for end-use applications. Specialized deep dyeing processes give customers the option to choose between dozens of vibrant colours specifically for additively manufactured polymer parts. These color palettes can include classic black, grey tones, deep blue tones, red tones, green tones, and even lively pinks.
Achieving this level of variation with a manual hand-dunking process would take an excessively long time. Post-processing machines that can take in multiple batches of parts in one run can increase this output to previously unseen heights, churning out production-ready components in a fraction of the time. This machine driven scalability is beneficial to AM's growth as a whole and enables the technology to compete in a high-output factory environment. DyeMansion is a leader in this sector and has based most of its business model around its DeepDye colouring process. The company provides post-processing systems for multi-jet fusion and selective laser sintering.
Automated support removal
Some companies take it a step further with automated support removal machines. This is usually the most time and resource-intensive phase of post-processing, so an automated solution does wonders.
These machines usually utilize a detergent-based technology which can be tens of times faster than a human being per part. They often come kitted with proprietary software that helps maintain high precision and support removal rates - both key factors in enabling scalability. These systems aim to cater to the needs of a high-throughput, high-volume production line, cutting costs in the way of manpower, and saving time for the client. A prime example is PostProcess Technologies with its large-format BASE machine - a system specially designed to facilitate mass post-processing.
HP recently announced its automated post-processing solutions in collaboration with Rösler. The company's HP Jet Fusion 5200 Series 3D Automatic Unpacking Station can consolidate the entire post-processing activity into a single, automated, and integrated process.
The trend towards automated post-processing solution seems to be catching, with US-based Nexa 3D announcing its post-processing solution, xCure, for photopolymer parts. The system aims to provide optimal curing through three operational modes—UV only, Heat only, and UV+Heat—and has a heating capacity between 30°-60°C with 1°C increments.
UK-based Additive Manufacturing Technologies is another company focused on developing post-processing solutions. Its POSTPRO3D solution automated the post-processing chain for powder-based AM and thermoplastic polymers.
The efficiency and cost-benefit provided by automated post-processing, be it for aesthetic or functional purposes can boost AM to a pedestal. It shows that a global post-processing platform can have a major effect on AM’s scalability as a whole.
The advancement in automated post-processing solutions could fuel the transformation of 3D printing from a batch process to a continuous, end-to-end automated process, capable of industrial level printing.