Overcoming the Top 5 Post-Printing Obstacles: Your 2021 To-Do List

The start of a new year is an opportune time to hit the “refresh” button and take a good look at where improvements can be made. As we look ahead to 2021, most additive manufacturing operations are hopeful to save costs and increase productivity and efficiencies in the upcoming year. One often-overlooked roadblock to achieving these goals can be post-printing.

Often called the “dirty little secret” of additive manufacturing, post-printing is the final phase of the additive workflow that though rarely talked about, can have dire impacts on efficiencies and scalability. As the world’s first innovator of automated post-printing solutions, PostProcess is committed to resolving the issues caused by post-print bottlenecks with proprietary technologies that leverage software, hardware, and chemistry. Read on to delve into the top five post-printing mistakes that additive companies can make, as well as opportunities to overcome them.

1. Underestimating Future Post-Print Needs
Additive is a rapidly scaling industry, predicted to reach a total market size of $26.68 billion by 2027. So, it’s likely that your own additive operation is growing at a steady rate as well. In our second Annual 3D Post-Printing Trends Survey Report, a mere 25% of individuals reported that their current post-printing methods will be acceptable for their future plans. Along the same grain, the respondents using print technologies targeted for production scale were the ones reporting the most expenditures and labor issues associated with post-printing.

A first step in understanding your true post-printing needs is to embrace the integrated ideology that we employ at PostProcess. While it’s easy to put post-printing on the backburner when viewing “Design”, “Print”, and “Post-Print” as separate, sequential phases, considering these steps to be interdependent can help set you up for success and accurately evaluate your post-printing needs. At the end of the day, arcane post-printing steps like manual picking and sanding, or traditional tumbling/blasting are simply not sustainable options for production volume additive manufacturing. Proactively considering your post-print needs are critical in making the most out of your time, energy, and materials.

2. The Impact of EH&S
Our aforementioned trends report study found that Vat Photopolymerization respondents held the highest concern for improving the health, safety, and environmental (EH&S) impact of their post-printing operation, followed closely by Powder Bed Fusion respondents. Considering the hazards associated with current methods, there is plenty of room for improvement in the safety and sustainability of post-printing.

Speaking to these EH&S issues, the chemicals traditionally used to finish 3D printed parts are notoriously harsh, causing unpleasant working conditions for technicians. Additionally, low flashpoints on chemicals like isopropyl alcohol (IPA) carry immense safety concerns and may lead to storage limitation issues. Traditional submersion methods (usually used for Vat Photopolymerization) require somewhat frequent changeouts of these potentially caustic chemicals – effectively slowing down efficiencies, and increasing the risk of safety hazards. The bottom line? Understanding the input and output of each printing system used in a facility can spare you from months of initial downtime and missed opportunities for ROI savings.

If you’re looking to modernize your workflow, PostProcess engineered the first-ever detergent specifically conducive to additive resin removal. Compared to IPA, this detergent immensely improves longevity to better handle large print volumes and was developed with a higher flashpoint to ease storage concerns. After experiencing continuous issues with IPA, international industrial design agency Splitvision switched to our solution which took cycle times from 30 minutes per part down to finishing 10 parts in less than 5 minutes. You can read the case study in full in our Case Studies database.

3. Undervaluing DfAM
Considering the post-print phase during part design can enable significant time, cost, and material savings for additive operations – it’s part of the integrated approach we spoke to earlier. When lacking this mindset, it’s common for engineers to mismatch applications to print technologies, and set unrealistic expectations for how the part will come off the printer. When occurring in real-time, these sorts of surprises can significantly inhibit productivity.

By beginning with the end in mind, technicians can optimize post-printing with simple, intuitive design considerations. Our white paper covers in depth the impact of the ways that strategies like part orientation, self-supporting angles, contour toolpaths, etc. can help impact overall efficiencies in FDM printing. Embracing the full power of DfAM is essential to achieving the highest part quality standards and most efficient operation possible.

4. Overlooking Post-Printing Costs
This year’s trend report found that about 20% of respondents don’t know what they spend on post-printing. These numbers can add up fast, as they incorporate labor, equipment, consumables, and more. Because technicians are typically doing the post-printing and management is somewhat removed, it’s understandable why the impact of these processes get overlooked. By keeping a close eye on the resources that your post-printing utilizes, you can stay aware of potential inefficiencies in your process, and gain a sense of how much you may save with an automated solution.

PostProcess has a specific return on investment (ROI) formula calculation which determines how much post-printing time one of our automated solutions could save an operation. To fully understand the impact of manual post-print costs, it’s essential to refer back to issue #2, and take chemical/general waste output, as well as material scrapping into consideration.

5. Hindering Scale-Up
This issue speaks to the general gist of the problem with traditional post-print methods. Simply put, manual post-printing processes are too time-consuming to truly allow the growth and scalability that most printing companies need to thrive. Not to mention, they can be incredibly wearing on technicians. If you are thinking of scaling up your additive process in 2021, it may be tempting to throw manual labor at the problem. However, the most efficient solution is going to be software-driven, so it’s vital to consider digitalized options.

By automating the post-printing process, technicians can spend less time on manual labor, and more time on sustainable, value-adding tasks. As the manufacturing landscape and specifically additive manufacturing becomes increasingly digitalized, implementing an automated approach to overcome the post-printing bottleneck can be transformative for your additive workflow. For more real-life examples of ways that our technologies have revolutionized additive operations, explore these testimonials.

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