The crucial role of post-processing in AM

The post-processing stage is crucial in the additive manufacturing process (AM). It bridges the gap between 3D printed parts and their functional final forms.

AM components can have surface imperfections and support structures. They may also lack mechanical properties. The post-processing is essential to improve the part’s appearance, remove support materials and enhance surface quality. A post-processing technique can be used to optimize mechanical properties and ensure the part is strong enough for its intended use. Without effective post-processing, the full potential of AM to create high-quality, functional parts for industries like healthcare would remain unrealised. 

Post-processing is also a way to fine-tune and customize AM parts. This allows them to be adapted to industry standards or specific application needs. Post-processing allows manufacturers to customize printed parts according to their exact specifications, whether it is to improve biocompatibility in medical implants or to enhance aerodynamics in aerospace components. AM’s adaptability and flexibility are key to ensuring it not only provides rapid prototyping but also works as a viable method of production for parts in many industries. 

AM without post-processing

Plastic parts that are manufactured additively without post-processing often have a variety of performance and visual defects. Visually, the parts are usually rough and layered, looking like a series closely spaced lines. The layer-by-layer process of AM can cause these surface imperfections, which can make parts appear unfinished and unattractive. Support structures that are commonly used in printing may also be still attached to parts, which further reduces their usability and appearance. 

The unprocessed components may perform differently, with reduced strength and durability. Layer-to-layer bonds may not be as strong, resulting in structural weaknesses. The parts can also have poor surface quality and dimensional errors, which may affect their fit and functionality within assemblies. In critical applications like medical devices, these unprocessed parts may not meet the stringent quality and performance standards required, highlighting the crucial role of post-processing in refining AM components for practical use. 

Consider post-processing

At different stages of product development, it is important to consider post-processing in AM. It’s important to consider post-processing requirements during the design stage. It is important to design parts that allow for surface texture and finish. Early consideration of postprocessing ensures that the design is aligned with both functional as well as aesthetic goals. 

Secondly, the post-processing plan should be an integral component of the prototyping phase. Rapid prototyping can produce parts with visible layer traces and rough surfaces. Designers and engineers can evaluate the prototypes at this stage to determine the post-processing required to achieve the desired result, such as improving the surface finish, or increasing mechanical properties. 

Finaly, the post-processing is crucial to ensure consistency and quality as the product approaches final production. The manufacturers must then standardise their post-processing processes to ensure each part is up to specification. These finishing processes, such as heat treatment and surface treatment, should be documented and integrated into production workflows to ensure consistent and reliable results. By considering post-processing at each stage, AM users can optimise their product development cycle as well as the quality and functionality of their parts. 

What post-processing solutions should you use? 

AM can be processed in a variety of ways, with each having its own strengths and weaknesses. They include sanding or grinding, chemical lubrication, heat treatment and others. Each method is designed to serve a specific purpose. However, mass finishing and blasting are the best options for a variety of reasons. 

Both mass finishing and shotblasting are versatile and highly efficient technologies. In mass finishing, rotating barrels or vibration equipment are used with abrasive materials to remove layer lines, imperfections and burrs. It can be used for a variety of materials and geometries, and produce consistent results. Shot blasting involves the use of high-speed particles that impact the surface to remove surface imperfections and enhance the finish. This method is highly automated, efficient and allows you to control the process of finishing. Both methods are cost-effective and suitable for large-scale production. 

Design for shotblasting and mass finishing

At the design stage, it is important to focus on several key considerations. Priority is given to the geometry and the orientation of the component. For parts with complex internal structures or difficult-to-reach angles, specialised finishing techniques may be required or support structures to be used during printing. This will ensure that shot blasting or mass finishing media can reach and treat the entire surface. 

Material selection is also a key consideration. The 3D-printing material selected should match the requirements for the postprocessing method. Certain materials will respond better to shot blasting or mass finishing than others. Choosing a material compatible can impact the efficiency of the post processing operation. 

Consider the final outcome of post-processing. Define your desired surface finish. Whether it is a polished, textured, or smooth surface, you should design the product accordingly. The design of parts that require certain textures or finishes must be optimised in order to achieve the desired results when mass finishing or shotblasting. These considerations can be addressed during the design process to ensure an efficient and seamless post-processing workflow. The result will be high-quality parts with the desired properties. 

A post processing strategy 

Post-processing is a critical step in AM. This isn’t just an extra step in the production cycle; it’s a crucial factor that can determine whether a project succeeds or fails. Post-processing is not an afterthought. This can have disastrous results. If you don’t plan your post-processing from the beginning of the project, you will end up with sub-optimal results and increased costs. You may even lose faith in the potential of AM. 

AM’s secret was post-processing until very recently. The industry was amazed at 3D printing’s ability to create complex and intricate geometries. However, they often ignored the fact that raw parts, as printed, did not meet the performance and quality standards needed for real-world application. The post-processing cost was disproportionately high per AM part, and it caused production delays. This was a time-consuming and expensive necessity for AM to thrive in various industries. 

AM Solutions, a pioneer in the field of 3D post-processing technology, is exposing and correcting deficiencies that exist during the post-processing phase. These companies recognise that AM will only reach its full potential when post-processing does not become an afterthought, but is an integral part to the production cycle. These companies are developing post-processing systems that are highly precise and cost-effective, and streamline the finishing process of 3D printed parts. They ensure they meet the high standards of industries from aerospace to health care.  

AM Solutions 3D post-processing technology and other companies with similar expertise and technology are driving AM’s transformation into a reliable, cost-effective, and agile production tool. They have cemented its role across industries as a game-changer. 

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It is time to stop treating post-processing in AM as a last minute thing. Now it is clear that the success of AM projects depends on carefully considering post-processing right from the start. AM Solutions, a pioneer in 3D post processing technologies, is bringing to light this problem that was once hidden and supplying the solutions AM needs for post-processing. AM redefines manufacturing with a holistic approach combining advanced printing technology and equally advanced finishing techniques. This offers unprecedented agility, efficiency and quality for industries all over the world. It’s no longer just about 3D-printing; AM has to be perfected from the beginning. 

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