What is Post-Processing in Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing is a revolutionary way to create 3D-printed end-user parts. It can offer benefits to almost any industry looking to ramp up prototyping and/or production. But when talking about the power of additive manufacturing, it’s also important to note one of the often overlooked steps: post-processing. Post-processing is often necessary and is one of the final steps required for a customer-ready part. Each print technology requires a different post-processing workflow.

But what is post-processing? Why is it needed? And what are some common post-processing techniques? Let’s take a deeper look at what post-processing is and common post-processing methods for popular 3D print technologies.

What is Post-Processing?

Post-processing refers to the third step in the additive manufacturing workflow. It can refer to the one or many processes that need to occur once a part is 3D printed to remove support structures or excess material on the build. This can include support removal and/or surface finishing. What steps need to be taken are largely dependent not only on the print technology used, but the print material used and the intended final use of the 3D printed part.

Why is Post-Processing in 3D Printing Needed?

Examples of 4 3d printed partsOnce a part is 3D printed, depending on the technology used, some steps need to be taken before we can use it for its final intended purpose. Many 3D prints require supports that are built into the design to maintain the integrity of the build structure. This is typical with technologies like Fused Deposition Modeling [FDM] and PolyJet, but can also appear in resin 3D printing in Stereolithography [SLA]. Some technologies that print metal parts, like Direct Metal Laser Sintering [DMLS], leave build lines on the part that may require surface finishing.

As we mentioned, each print technology requires different post-processing steps before a part is complete and customer ready. There are also many post-processing techniques to process these parts. Let’s examine some traditional post-processing techniques.

What are Some Traditional 3D Printing Post-Processing Techniques?

Print technologies that use liquid resin typically come out covered in excess resin. The additional resin needs to be removed before the final part. Traditional methods to remove excess resin include baths of toxic IPA or solvent that will remove the greasy excess resin. This can often take multiple baths and require manual hand scrubbing to remove the residue fully. Parts can then be cured in an oven and painted if needed.

Many metal 3D print technologies like Direct Metal Laser Sintering [DMLS] and Selective Laser Melting [SLM] leave layer lines on their 3D printed parts. It often leaves parts with a rough surface. To address this, traditional post-processing methods include vibratory machines and hand sanding to clean and smooth these parts for their intended use.

Fused Deposition Modeling typically requires support structures when the print has overhangs or suspended features. Support structures allow for the successful printing of complex shapes by propping up these otherwise unsupported areas and keeping them from collapsing while being printed, helping to maintain part geometry. FDM support material is made of a different material than the build material and is sometimes soluble in a solvent. For FDM support removal, traditional methods include soaking in IPA to remove the support material or manual removal with pliers or other hand tools.

Many risks and problems are associated with these traditional and outdated post-processing methods. While traditional methods can be effective in finishing parts, they create bottlenecks for additive manufacturers. For example, soaking in IPA baths can harm the build material and warp parts. Soaking for extended periods in IPA or caustic solvents can also waterlog parts and lead to long drying times before they are complete. Lastly, manual bulk removal has implications for both consistency and quality.

What is Automated Post-Processing in 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing?

Automated post-processing integrates hardware, software, and chemistry to alleviate some traditional post-processing struggles. A software-intelligent post-processing solution offers reliable, consistent, and repeatable results that aren’t found with traditional methods. It combines years of data from thousands upon thousands of benchmarked parts to optimize recipes to deliver precise finishing, helping any operation scale at a rapid pace.

By automating the post-processing step in additive manufacturing, you can eliminate time-consuming and expensive piece-by-piece manual cleaning, providing reliable resin and support removal and dependable surface finishing. An automated post-processing solution can ease the challenges with traditional methods and eliminate the bottleneck in additive workflows.

For more information on automated post-processing solutions, visit [HERE].

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