Empire Group Drives Workflow Gains with A Superior Approach to SLA Resin Removal

Yes, even companies who have been utilizing additive manufacturing for more than two decades can face challenges with the third step of the 3D printing process – post-printing. Empire Group, a service bureau specializing in rapid prototyping and industrial design/engineering, has long functioned to bring fast delivery times to its clients. They especially pride themselves on understanding the nuances of each material used within their shop, as well as the best finishing techniques for each, to ensure high product standards.

As veteran users of stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing, Empire Group reaped the benefits of the technology’s accuracy and flexibility. However, the lengthy and tedious resin removal process associated with this workflow soon proved problematic, as it became clear these inefficiencies would escalate into a more critical issue as the workload and number of printers grew. Without an automated solution, the amount of time dedicated to post-printing would only expand as well.

To stay ahead of these looming bottlenecks, Empire Group recently introduced significant time savings to its operation with the incorporation of the only full-stack digital post-printing approach on the market – the PostProcess™ DEMI™ resin removal solution. The DEMI, in combination with PostProcess’s proprietary detergents developed specifically for resin removal, transformed their workflow in a short amount of time. Subsequently, Empire Group was able to leverage shortened post-printing cycle times, refined high-volume production operations, and reallocation of their energy towards more value-added tasks.

View the full case study now to find more out about:

  • The scalability issues Empire Group was facing with traditional post-printing and how the DEMI achieved an average time savings of 50%.
  • How these optimizations have improved overall productivity as well as Empire Group’s bottom line.
  • The details of PostProcess’s patent-pending Submersed Vortex Cavitation (SVC) technology, and how its cutting-edge software intelligence can be revolutionary for additive operations.

Access the Case Study here.

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4 Simple Ways to Optimize Your FDM Post-Printing During the Design Phase

Why Think Post-Printing During the Design Phase?
As a whopping 23% of the average part cost for polymer 3D printing is attributed to the post-printing step alone (Source: 2019 Wohler’s Report). It is essential to take every provision possible to keep your post-printing process efficient and cost-effective. If this step doesn’t keep up with the rest of your workflow, it will be nearly impossible to support a sustainable additive manufacturing operation, much less grow your production.

One of the most essential factors in ensuring efficient post-printing is actually at the very first phase of the additive workflow – designing the part. If you’re not mindful of the post-printing step early on in the design phase, it’s very likely you’ll end up having wasted time, material, and resources on an iteration that you’ll have to alter anyways.

By having a more concrete understanding of what sort of processes your 3D printed parts will go through during the post-printing phase, you can incorporate simple design tweaks to ensure your workflow remains as streamlined as possible – therefore limiting the potential for design failures. Though this blog post will specifically discuss four different design tips and tricks for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), keep an eye out for upcoming blogs on these same sorts of tips for PolyJet, as well as Resin-based (SLA/DLP/CLIP) additive workflows.

1) Aim for Maximum Fluid Access
Traditional support removal and surface finishing methods for FDM post-printing typically encompass a significant amount of manual labor or the use of dunk tanks. To reduce the need for hands-on toil and let the detergent, or abrasive media in the case of surface finishing, used in automated solutions do more of the grunt work, you’ll want to design your part with maximized fluid access in mind. Exposing parts to detergents for the least amount of time possible will cut down on drying time, and as a result, help to speed up your entire printing production. To improve detergent flow, you’ll want to avoid incorporating any dead-end channels within your FDM part, and instead, look for logical places to add drain holes and improve detergent flow without compromising the design.

2) Limit Support Material
Another hallmark of FDM printing is its ability to complete “sparse builds” as opposed to solid-filled parts. This low-density style of part design is often self-supporting, requiring less support and material usage overall. Part orientation is another facet that directly impacts the amount of structural support needed. Keep in mind that the default parameters on design software often overcompensate with more overhangs than necessary. Specifically, limiting the number of overhangs within a part will notably reduce the amount of support material required.

3) Use The Build Envelope to Your Advantage
With FDM printing, you can also use the height of the build envelope to your advantage by stacking parts. Stacking parts will help to simplify post-printing down the line as build material from the other parts will act as support casings, therefore minimizing the need for excess supports.

4) Don’t Forget About Surface Finishing!
When it comes to optimizing an FDM part particularly for surface finishing, many of the same recommendations regarding support removal apply. Much like you’d design a part to have optimal fluid access, ensuring that circulating abrasive media has maximum contact with the part helps to guarantee a uniform finish. “Filleting”, or rounding internal corners, is a simple way to allow for better media contact. Similarly, printing surfaces perpendicular to the build plate, as opposed to parallel, will initially create a much smoother finish, allowing a part requiring a low Roughness Average (Ra) to be more achievable. Areas printed parallel to the build plate, known as the surface’s “rasters” or “upskin”, tend to have much rougher surfaces, so it’s best to try and keep these as small as possible. Finally, taking care to limit part angles to 45 degrees or less will optimize surface finishing, as angles greater than this can be quite difficult to smooth, even with an additional surface finishing step.

Like most things in life, becoming adept at designing for post-printing and additive manufacturing in general simply takes time and practice. The more time you dedicate towards experimental printing, the more you will understand the nuances of your FDM printer, and the better you can optimize part builds. As the first to innovate automated post-printing solutions tailored specifically to FDM printing, PostProcess Technologies has an array of resources to help you unearth the tribal knowledge within the 3D printing industry, including white papers. Explore our product offerings to learn how our proprietary intelligent post-printing solutions are critical to further post-printing optimization, improve additive workflow efficiencies, and save on time, labor, and energy.

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Guest Blog: Post-Printing Automation Accelerates PolyJet Process for Protolabs

In the midst of COVID-19, organizations are prioritizing mitigating risk, cost-effectiveness, and automation in general. As the world continues to place a progressively greater emphasis on efficiency, it’s safe to assume that many of these initiatives are here to stay. Compared to traditional methods like subtractive manufacturing, additive manufacturing excels in efficiency, enabling fast lead times, and more.

That’s not to say this is always a seamless process, however. Even additive leaders like Protolabs have experienced bottlenecks and inefficiencies during the final stage of additive workflows – the post-printing step. Previously notorious as a labor-intensive job requiring hours of picking, sanding, or soaking, post-printing is now able to be digitized for the first time ever, with the help of PostProcess Technologies. Our automated post-printing solution deploys a proprietary blend of software, hardware, and chemistry to revolutionize the post-printing step and streamline additive workflows as the industry currently knows them.

Particularly in the case of Protolabs, the PostProcess™ DEMI™ solution was able to reduce manual labor time spent post-printing their PolyJet parts by as much as 50%. These time savings allow Protolabs to focus on more value-added tasks, and helped the company accelerate their speed to market. Our recent Guest Blog Post with Protolabs goes into much more detail on this case study in particular – read it now to learn more about:

– The value in fully digitized workflows and the role of additive in “lights out” manufacturing.
– Details about our post-printing technology and the benefits it can unlock.
– Protolabs’ own experience with implementing an automated PostProcess solution into their workflow.

Check out the Protolabs Blog Post

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Insights from an Additive Veteran: 5 Questions with an Expert

As one of the trendiest sectors of manufacturing, 3D printing has made some major strides over the last couple of decades, especially when it comes to enabling Industry 4.0. However, a fully digitized additive workflow cannot be achieved without one key component – an automated post-printing solution. To gain some perspective on the past, present, and future of additive, as well as the value of automated post-printing, we sat down with our West Coast Territory Business Development Manager Stephanie Barberree, who has been in the additive industry virtually her entire career.

You’ve worked across a variety of different realms within the additive manufacturing industry. Could you tell us a little bit about your background in additive, and touch on the biggest ways you’ve seen the industry develop over the years?

I began my career in additive manufacturing at a service bureau based in Southern California and stayed there for a number of years. Eventually, I followed one of my coworkers who left the company to begin his own service bureau, where I worked even after it was sold to a large print manufacturer. Once that acquisition happened, I leapt to printer sales before eventually joining the PostProcess team. I came into this company with experience in parts and in selling printers themselves, and now I’m on the post-processing side of things.

As an additive manufacturing veteran who is now an employee of PostProcess Technologies, we can assume you saw clear value in automating post-printing. Can you speak to this a bit more?

When I was at a service bureau, I’d witness technicians spending hours upon hours cleaning parts, such as with SLA (Stereolithography). It was very messy, very time consuming and extremely expensive for the company since we were shipping parts out on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there weren’t really any alternatives available back then like what PostProcess offers today.

On the other hand, when I was selling printers, I saw so many of my customers struggle with post-process bottlenecks – one of the main issues that PostProcess works to alleviate. These bottlenecks could really negatively impact engineers’ workflows and general productivity. No matter how fast they moved, it seemed that parts would just pile up waiting to be cleaned. Breakage was also a big issue, as every broken part requires the printing cycle to be restarted once again. Since PostProcess’s technology is designed specifically for additive parts and offers intuitive software settings, they add a lot of value when it comes to breakage mitigation.

Can you give me an example of a situation in which you saw software-based post-printing solutions really revolutionized or dramatically improved an additive workflow?

Service bureaus are probably the place where I’ve seen our solutions make the most tremendous impact. By freeing up manual labor and thereby allowing technicians to spend time on more valuable tasks, our support removal and surface finishing solutions effectively help to streamline and automate workflows.

I’d say that another major benefit to our solutions is that they are able to work with a variety of materials, making them ideal for large labs that utilize 5 or 6 different types of additive solutions. Generally, our automated post-printing technology enables service bureaus and manufacturers alike to boost throughput and significantly reduce lead times.

In what areas do you see additive manufacturing making the most impact over the next 10-20 years? How does post-printing play a role?

As the benefits of additive manufacturing become increasingly clear, I’ve noticed a movement away from traditional subtractive manufacturing, and a larger push towards additive.

The field where I’m seeing additive make the most significant impact would have to be medical. By utilizing additive, medical companies don’t have to deal with the frustrating lead times (often 8-10 weeks’ worth) that come along with thermoforming or injection molding. Additive, when equipped with automated post-processing, simply allows products to get to market so much faster than any traditional manufacturing technologies. Speed and quick implementation of product improvement is everything when you’re dealing with the medical industry, and at the end of the day, saving lives. The improved production speed that automated post-printing enables is essential here.

Taking all of your experience into account, what advice do you have for a company just starting out in additive?

My number one piece of advice is simply to do your homework. There are so many different types of products on the market, and you need to ensure that you choose the one that will fit best into your workflow. Don’t rely on what someone else tells you – sample an array of different technologies and materials. Also, set clear expectations upfront on what you expect your 3D printer to do in order to avoid surprises.

 

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New Case Study: Splitvision Builds on Additive Manufacturing Expertise with Automated Resin Removal

Having been in the product development world since 1989, Sweden-based industrial product design company Splitvision has always kept its finger on the pulse of what’s new in the design and manufacturing world. This is what eventually led them towards the adoption of additive manufacturing, specifically digital light processing (DLP).

Similar to continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) and stereolithography (SLA) printing techniques, DLP is a resin-based form of additive manufacturing that has a notoriously messy and cumbersome post-printing process associated with it. Traditionally, tools like handheld squeeze bottles, brushes, and dunk tanks have been used to finish resin-based parts – resulting in long cycle times, inconsistent finishings, and exorbitant amounts of manual labor. Meanwhile, the chemicals themselves commonly used for resin removal (e.g. isopropyl alcohol [IPA]) are known for their flammability and the danger that they typically introduce to workplace environments.

Splitvision benefitted from DLP printing in terms of improved fine feature details and mechanical properties, as well as Thermoplastic Elastomer-like performance on soft parts. However, along with other bottleneck issues, they particularly struggled to fully clean the many crevices and narrow interior tunnels of products like their design casings.

Upon implementing the PostProcess solution in January 2020, Splitvision did not just find an automated resin removal solution, but they discovered a superior chemistry alternative to IPA, as well. PostProcess’s proprietary, software-controlled Submersed Vortex Cavitation (SVC) technology uses ultrasonic cleaning, agitation, and controlled temperature to effectively and consistently remove uncured resin from parts. Plus, the technology was developed to be used in conjunction with PostProcess’s chemistries specifically made for additive materials.

Explore our new Case Study with Splitvision to learn more about how the elements of our automated post-printing solutions can revolutionize additive workflows and improve working environments. The case study will touch upon:

  • The benefits surrounding Splitvision’s implementation of an additive workflow.
  • The commonplace post-printing bottlenecks that arose in Splitvision’s additive manufacturing process.
  • The various time and cost savings that PostProcess’s SVC and chemistry solutions enabled for Splitvision.

Download Now!

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Inside Chemistry for Resin Removal: 5 Questions with an Expert

Working in tandem with our proprietary hardware and software, our unique chemistry formulations play a critical role in all of our automated post-printing solutions. We recently sat down with our in-house PhD chemist to talk through our newest chemistry solution for resin removal for SLA, DLP, and CLIP print technologies.

Could you begin by giving us an overview of the challenges in the 3D printing resin removal from the chemistry perspective?

The thing that makes resin removal so tricky is that you are dealing with especially fine chemical differences between the build material itself, and the actual resin that needs to be removed. To successfully clean a part, you need to find the best solution to target the non-polymerized oligomers of the resin, but not the polymer itself.

Why does chemistry specifically play such a critical role in the process of removing resins from 3D printed parts (perhaps even more so than support removal)?

Support removal, while it does typically utilize chemistry, is a lot more reliant on ultrasonics and pressure to physically remove support materials. That’s probably the largest difference between cleaning resin parts and removing soluble support materials. Take SLA post-printing for example. Because it is a single vat printing technology, both the structure and build are made out of the same material. For this reason, effective chemistry is crucial, as resin must be pulled from the surface of both the build, as well as any supporting structures. To avoid the need for constant washing, chemistry for resin removal submersion must be extremely effective on its own. That’s what we set out to create at PostProcess.

What were the goals that PostProcess had in mind when formulating a novel chemistry solution for the resin removal process?

Our main goal has always been to create user-friendly resin removal chemistry that works longer and faster than comparable options on the market. I’m proud to say that we’ve achieved some really significant improvements in efficiencies compared to isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and tripropylene glycol methyl ether (TPM), the two main alternatives for resin removal.

In addition to being more effective, we’ve also managed to make the PostProcess solution a lot less hazardous, and less flammable, than IPA. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about – enabling a safer work environment for the individuals working around these materials.

How do the benefits of PostProcess’ resin removal chemistry, in combination with its software and hardware system, enable a more streamlined additive workflow?

Every part of this automated process was designed to work together – the entire streamlined system means you can avoid compatibility issues that you might have with a 3rd party detergent or machine. We’ve developed smart hardware with software-enabled safeguards, which means they’ll shut themselves down before they even reach the point of potential flammability hazards. Because PostProcess is the only solution on the market implementing all three pillars of software, hardware, and chemistry together, our solutions have shown really impressive results that are pretty incomparable to competitors.

Actually, our recent white paper found that our solutions removed 4.2x more resin than IPA, and 1.8x more resin than TPM, all in notably faster cycle times. As a general rule of thumb, the less time that a finished part spends submerged, the better, as this lowers the risk of surface chemistry effects.

Because of the hydrophilic nature of resins, it’s also common to see swelling in finished parts during submersion as they absorb water. Unlike most IPA solutions, the PostProcess detergent does not contain any water, so we don’t see a lot of the swelling that occurs with the use of other chemistries. That’s definitely been a benefit that we’ve noticed as well.

Chemicals used in post-printing can be notoriously harsh in regard to health, safety, and environmental considerations. How does PostProcess’ resin removal chemistry enable a safer working environment?

As I mentioned before, the safety improvements and minimization of waste handling that our resin removal solution enables is really our crowning achievement. Resins used in additive manufacturing tend to be very toxic. This can make for a very hazardous workplace and means that liquid waste needs to be sent out for proper disposal. Not only is the disposal process costly, but unloading and reloading machines creates a lot of downtime, and is one of the most notorious times for chemical spills to happen. Thanks to its ability to be distilled, our detergent can vastly extend the lifetime of an individual unit of chemistry, therefore minimizing overall waste, downtime, disposal costs, and spillage risk.

Lastly, if you’ve ever been in a room with an IPA dip tank, you can testify that it’s intense. The vapors are strong, and while it may not be outright toxic, it’s uncomfortable and irritating at the very least. We engineered our resin removal solution to be much less obtrusive on the system, and more enjoyable to work around.

 

You can learn more about our solutions for resin removal here or by emailing us at info@postprocess.com. Also, you can see our resin removal solutions during live tours guided by an engineering expert every week during June – reserve your spot here.

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