DfAM: How to Reduce Support Removal Time for FDM

It’s no secret that Additive Manufacturing is a powerful tool, allowing engineers to create organic geometries and build parts in a completely unique process. One factor that enables these one-of-a-kind part builds is soluble support material. However, in an additive technology like Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) soluble support material can increase build time, the material cost of the part, and the amount of time that must be dedicated to the post-processing support removal step.

When designing a part, it is always important to understand the process in which the part will be produced, and the case is no different with Additive Manufacturing. The classic approach to additive is very siloed, sectioning off designing, building, and post-printing as separate steps, with the latter usually left as an afterthought.

However, post-printing is an integral part of the overall additive workflow, so it is important for all three of these steps to be considered in order to effectively streamline production, and ultimately improve scalability. This article will take a deeper look at support removal and how your part orientation, support settings in the slicing software, and part design can affect support material usage and removal. Using these tips combined with PostProcess Technologies’ DECI or BASE Support Removal systems for FDM will decrease your overall part cycle time.

Figure 1

Part Orientation

Depending on the geometry of your part, orientation can play a huge role not only in the part’s strength but also in the amount of support material that is used during the print step. Below you’ll find a simple example of how orientation can affect the amount of support material required.

Figure 1 shows a L-bracket printed on its end, and Figure 2 shows the same L-bracket printed flat on its side. In the below screenshots from the GrabCAD Print software, the green represents the model material of the part while the orange represents the support material required to print the part in that orientation. As you can see in the example below, build time is reduced by about 58% and support material usage is reduced by about 91% just by changing the build orientation of your part. This translates to a shorter overall part cycle time, as well as a lower part cost for you.

Figure 2

To determine if you have effectively minimized the support material needed for a printed part, you can use slicing software like Stratasys’s GrabCAD Print or Insight (if you have a Stratasys FDM printer) to preview the build and estimate the amount of time and material required. If you use Insight, there is also an Automatic Orientation function that will allow you to select the “Minimize supports” method. By choosing this option, you will see a couple of different orientation alternatives to minimize your support material usage. It’s important to keep in mind that this method in Insight does not always work, but it should always be able to help you figure out if you are on the right track. Especially if you have a complicated part, this software component is ideal for showing you options to minimize your support material usage.

Slicing Software Support Settings

Figure 4

When you cannot alter or change the design of the part, there are still things you can do to help reduce the amount of required support material in your build. In Insight, for example, if you have a part as shown in Figure 4, you can change how much support material is used by altering the “Grow Support” setting. By default, the software is set at “Small only”. However, in some cases you can modify it to “No.” See Figure 5 and 6 for the before and after results (in this case, the red is model material and the gray is support material).

By changing this setting, you eliminate the support material that grows from the bottom of the feature (in this case a hole) to the build platform. In the end, it comes to about a 10-minute reduction in build time (6% overall reduction) and 0.141 inᶟ reduction in support material (15% overall reduction) for this single part.

Figure 5
Figure 6

Part Design

Figure 7

The final option for reducing support removal time is to be strategic with your part design by maximizing on the benefits of whatever print technology you are using. With FDM, you can take advantage of self-supporting angles and, in combination with your part orientation, reduce the amount of support material needed. In some cases, this can help to strengthen your printed part.

So, just what is a self-supporting angle, and how do you know what the value of that angle is? A self-supporting angle is the angle from a line parallel with the build platform, to the feature being supported (see Figure 7).

In general, the angle is 45⁰. With that said, any overhanging geometry that has an angle of less than 45⁰ will require support material. However, to get specific, the actual value is in the support settings in GrabCAD print, and if you are using a Stratasys printer, in Insight. The actual value will vary based on the printed model material and the slice height that the printer is set at. For example, on a Stratasys Fortus 450mc, loaded with ASA material and printing at a slice height of 0.010”, the part will have a self-supporting angle of 43⁰, whereas Nylon 12CF is 50⁰. So that angle could change slightly when changing materials and/or slice heights.

While designing a part to be printed on an FDM printer it’s essential to understand what orientation the part will be printed in, and where you may be able to utilize tricks like self-support angles in your part design. Remember, this will help reduce the support material needed and help make the support removal process that much faster. Below is a self-supporting example that will illustrate how effective this can be in saving printer build time, support material usage, and ultimately reducing the time it takes to remove the support material.

Figure 8
Figure 9

Just like with any tool, it takes time and practice to design parts that take advantage of what Additive Manufacturing can bring to your engineering or design teams. As you start to look at the lifecycle of designing, building, and post-printing, explore the product offerings of PostProcess Technologies, specifically the DECI and BASE systems as solutions for FDM. Both of these systems are built with our proprietary Volume Velocity Dispersion (VVD) technology, which has been developed specifically for additive manufacturing to remove support material more efficiently and streamline workflows overall.

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5 Revolutionary Features of our New Solution for High-Volume SLA Printing

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the additive manufacturing industry is its scalability. With the capability to manufacture a part pretty much on-demand, 3D printing certainly has the potential to alter the way that manufacturers not only create their products, but also how they manage their supply chains, purchase raw materials, and allocate engineering resources. With an efficient, streamlined workflow enabled by additive manufacturing, companies can save significant amounts of time and money, and scale their operations at a pace they’d perhaps never before thought tangible.

With the knowledge that the concept of scalability is integral to enabling fully automated workflows, PostProcess set out to create an automated resin removal solution to accommodate high-volume stereolithography (SLA) production. Though PostProcess has developed multiple existing solutions for hands-free resin removal, this solution, called the DEMI 4000™, is our largest automated resin removal solution to date. The solution is specifically aligned for SLA print technologies and allows operations to handle high-volume operations with either large-sized parts or large builds with smaller-sized parts. Let’s walk through five of the features that make the UL/CSA listed and CE compliant DEMI 4000 a revolutionary innovation for the additive realm.

1. Patented SVC Technology
Submersed Vortex Cavitation (SVC) is the same type of technology used in several of PostProcess’s other automated solutions for SLA, DLP, and CLIP print technologies. Controlled by the AUTOMAT3D® software platform (more on that soon), SVC optimizes the rate of resin removal with advanced ultrasonics, a vortex pumping scheme, as well as heat and fluid flow.

2. AUTOMAT3D Software
With a user-friendly interface, the AUTOMAT3D software takes the guesswork out of post-printing with pre-programmed recipe formulations. Hosted on a multi-touch HMI interface, the software works to control the agitation intensities, temperatures, process times, and more to produce consistent end part finishings with no breakage. Rather than dealing with trial and error, operators spend less time on post-printing, and simply have to “press play and walk away.”

3. Large Processing Tank
Measuring 890mm x 890mm x 635mm, the DEMI 4000’s tank is able to handle large or heavy loads of parts at one time, effectively increasing throughput and reducing cycle times. The DEMI 4000 functions to align with the following printers:

3DS ProX 800
Max build envelope:
25.6” x 29.5” x 21.6” (650mm x 750mm x 550mm)
Max build envelope: 31.5” x 31.5” x 23.6” (800mm x 800mm x 600mm)
Max build envelope: 20” x 20” x 23” (508mm x 508mm x 584mm)

4. Powered Lift System
The DEMI 4000’s ergonomic powered lift system allows for automatic lowering and heightening of tray loads. The automated adjustable rack system allows users to simultaneously process multiple build trays of various heights and widths. In addition to being convenient, the fully enclosed envelope helps ensure operator safety, as well as a clean work environment. The system itself integrates with the machine’s SVC technology for optimal ease of use.

5. Additive Formulated Chemistry
PostProcess’s detergents for resin removal are specifically developed for additive post-printing, unlike other common chemicals. Each detergent is uniquely optimized for different types of resins, including for specialized applications such as ceramic-filled resins and high-temp resins.

Our latest generation of detergent was found to have better longevity than all typical solvents (e.g. IPA, TPM, DPM), equating to more infrequent chemical change-outs, improved environmental-friendliness, and therefore a safer workplace environment. Having a flashpoint over 200°F / 93°C, this detergent complies with regulatory requirements.

Thanks to this unique blend of software, hardware, and chemistry, the DEMI 4000 is adept at consistently finishing parts with complex geometries and intricate internal channels. You can learn more about what the DEMI 4000 has to offer in an upcoming live tour here.

-> Read about our latest resin removal chemistry innovation in this Application Note

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New Advancement for SLA/DLP/CLIP Resin Removal: Meet our Latest Chemistry Formulation

Today we’re proud to launch our latest innovation for 3D printed Vat Photopolymerization resin removal, PLM-403. This new addition to the PostProcess Technologies family of proprietary detergents was developed specifically for PostProcess’s patented Submersed Vortex Cavitation (SVC) technology and improves upon the performance of its predecessor, the previously released PLM-402 (referred to 402 from here on).

Read on to learn how PostProcess’s newly developed resin removal detergent stacks up against common resin removal solutions like isopropyl alcohol (IPA), dipropylene glycol methyl ether (DPM), or tripropylene glycol methyl ether (TPM).

Beyond a detergent’s ability to clean parts, perhaps the number one thing that users look at is the life of the detergent, as this typically determines the frequency of laborious cleaning activities. In the case of resin removal solutions, longevity can be defined by the weight that the chemical solution can hold while it is still able to functionally remove resin. As a result of testing capacity by weight of resin in solution at 10 minutes, 403 not only had better longevity than all typical solvents (IPA, TPM, DPM), but it also had a 6% improved longevity versus our previous solution, 402.

In addition to scaling back downtime caused by chemical change-outs, the optimized longevity of 403 can play a role in reducing waste generation, as well. Uncured resins in solution are considered hazardous, making them costly to dispose of. The less frequency with which this hazardous waste must be disposed of, the better – and that’s precisely the benefit of 403’s longevity. Once saturated with resin, 403 can even be recovered for use by distillation. Under a typical vacuum distillation, up to 90%+ of 403 by saturation weight (amount of resin in solution) can be recovered for reuse of the detergent. This factor serves to make 403 an especially sustainable and cost-effective option.

To enable users with a simple way of tracking their detergent’s longevity, PostProcess provides a Hydrometer solution to indicate the amount of resin saturation.

Safety Considerations
In addition to handling hazardous materials as minimally as possible, additive operations make an effort to mitigate inhalation and combustion risks in order to maintain a safe work environment. With a higher flashpoint and boiling point than 402 or IPA, 403 is a critical asset in reducing the risk of flammability and maintaining safety for engineers and technicians. In fact, this heightened flashpoint brought 403 down to the “non-flammable liquid” category.

Additionally, with a vapor pressure of only .2 @ 20 C (mm Hg) compared to IPA’s 33.1 @ 20 C (mm Hg), the 403 detergent is far less volatile to work around. Offering a safer work environment, this game-changing detergent is developed to be user-friendly with a minimal waste output.

Alleviating Storage Concerns
If you’re working in the additive space, you’re likely already familiar with the limitations on the amount of flammable/combustible resin removal liquids that can be kept on-site. While maintaining safety is essential, these regulations can prove troublesome for large-scale resin removal.

In situations where large volumes of chemicals are required to remove resin, 403’s heightened flashpoint addresses issues of storage limitations. The 220°F (104°C) can be stored for use in much larger quantities than other resin removal chemistries that are considered flammable or combustible.

Chemistry is just one part of our comprehensive approach to resin removal. You can learn more about the various components of our full-stack resin removal solutions, as well as see in-depth data on 403’s performance in our latest Application Note.

-> Learn how this solution transforms workflows in real customer Case Studies

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