Inside Automating 3D Post-Printing: 5 Questions with an Expert

Questions about automating your additive workflow through the post-printing step? We have answers. In our new 5 Questions with an Expert series, we sat down with one of our most seasoned Senior Application Engineers, Nick Cudzilo. Read on for some practical advice and real observations through years of experience implementing our software-driven solutions across a range of business types and print technologies.

From your personal interactions while working with additive manufacturing operators, what are some of the most significant benefits that customers have expressed they’ve gained from AM overall?

There are so many benefits, and those, of course, can differ based on industry and application. Additive manufacturing really enables the ability to mass customize parts, with the medical industry probably being the most applicable example. Think about fitting a patient with a prosthetic or designing an implant or dental arch. With additive, we have the ability to customize these really specific parts on a mass scale. Especially in medical applications when it’s about saving and improving lives, that’s a complete game-changer. By eliminating the need for one-off molds and reducing the complexity of supply chains, you’re getting a custom product turned around very quickly and at a much lower cost.

Compared to traditional manufacturing, additive also provides increased accessibility to automation, which directly results in cost savings. Plus, 3D printing is pretty seamless to implement, so it allows companies to enjoy a bit more control over their inventory by moving outsourced manufacturing to an in-house function. Those benefits especially come into play when you’re talking about rapid prototyping for sectors like consumer goods and even aerospace.

On the flip side, what are some things that customers have said they wished that they had known about before implementing an additive process?

I talk to a lot of customers within the 3D printing realm, and more than anything, I’ve heard people say that they wish they knew how much manual labor is still involved in the post-printing step of additive manufacturing. 3D printer OEMs are great at describing the benefits of 3D printing itself, but don’t always disclose the manual work that is involved in the rest of the process. We often refer to that post-print bottleneck as the “black sheep” or “dirty little secret” of the additive workflow – and that’s exactly the area where the software-driven solutions that we supply at PostProcess are able to help.

Before installing our automated post-printing solutions, what are some of the most common complaints you’ve heard about manual or more traditional post-printing processes?

Right off the bat, I can say that the manual labor is the number one complaint, as well as the time and cost associated with it. Once a company has implemented our solutions, they are able to significantly reduce manual labor and redirect skilled labor to more valuable tasks.

The harsh chemicals necessary for more traditional support removal methods are also problematic. The sheer volume of chemicals needed for large submersion tanks is pretty immense. Not only does this create an additional cost factor for a lot of businesses, but it can make waste disposal tricky as well. The exclusive technology in our machines utilizes our chemistry more efficiently, increasing the longevity of detergents. This is better for both businesses and the environment.

That brings us to the other common issue – workplace environments. Traditional surface finishing and support removal creates a lot of potentially toxic residue, like metal and nylon powders. I’ve seen a lot of labs totally covered in plastic dust from hand-sanding and workers having to go to extensive lengths to protect themselves from harsh chemicals. One of the most rewarding things about bringing our post-printing solutions into workplaces is getting to help people enjoy healthier working environments.

Can you give me an example of a case where our post-printing solutions really revolutionized or dramatically improved an additive workflow?

I’d say that 3D printing service bureaus are where I’ve noticed the greatest impact. These companies are printing all day, every day, and are expected to deliver virtually perfect, finished products back to the end-user. Service bureau employees are constantly exposed to harsh chemicals and work in particularly harsh environments.

The solutions that we offer to these organizations provide the ability to automate their process, enabling not only a complete digital thread but the ability to significantly scale their manufacturing, too. To come back to the wording of your question, in order to revolutionize a workflow, you can’t just scale up one portion and expect a change. You need to scale the entire process – including your post-printing workflow.

What advice would you give to someone looking to implement additive manufacturing for the first time?

The piece of advice that immediately comes to mind is to talk to more than one person before you make a purchase. Specifically, talk to someone other than just the person who is selling you the 3D printer. Ensure that you’ve spoken with people who know about the full process both on the software and design side, but primarily on the post-print side. Most people are unaware of the scale of what it takes to run an effective post-printing operation, so talking to an expert (like someone from PostProcess) will help you fully understand the requirements around post-printing.

 

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