in Vol. 21 - March Issue - Year 2020
The Post Processing Of 3D Printed Components - An Innovative Approach By A Surface Treatment Specialist
Manuel Laux, Head of Department of AM Solutions
With the S1 Basic AM Solutions - 3D post-processing presents a competitively priced entry-level system for powder removal and surface cleaning. The machine can handle different blast media and, due to its compact design, can be easily integrated into any production line
The S2 system allows fully-automatic operation and workpiece handling. Due to its short cycle times, the compact S2 can easily handle the powder removal of the output of multiple printers.
Equipped with a robot and designed for highly flexible operation, the S3 wet blasting system is ideal for the fully-automatic support structure and powder removal as well as surface texturing of large, complex components in a precisely-controlled processing environment.
"Recently, Rösler signed a cooperation agreement with HP regarding the post-processing of components made with the HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. Here is what the two companies had to say about this cooperation: (a) Stephan Rösler, CEO of the Rösler Oberflächentechnik GmbH comments: “HP is an extremely valuable partner within our AM network. The cooperation allows us to further improve our automated post-processing solutions and adapt them specifically to the Multi Jet Fusion technology from HP.” (b) Ramon Pastor, Interim Head of HP 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing, explains: “This partnership is an important example of HPs commitment to collaborating with leaders in the industrial ecosystem to drive the digital transformation of manufacturing. The Rösler group offers comprehensive know-how in equipment building and surface finishing which is critical to production. We look forward to working together to broaden the opportunity for and accelerate mass production of applications across vertical industries.”
The M1 Basic is a competitively priced entry-level system and is perfectly suited for surface smoothing and polishing of 3D-printed components made from metal and plastic. Easy to operate and with its small footprint, this machine can be easily integrated into existing production lines.
With the M3 system, AM Solutions offers a machine for gentle and homogeneous surface finishing of large 3D-printed components with complex geometries. This machine can handle either one single workpiece measuring up to 650 mm or several smaller components.
AM Solutions - 3D printing services offers a service package that ranges from design/engineering all the way to machining and surface finishing of 3D-printed components
With a broad range of mass finishing machinery, industrial washing machines, shot blast equipment, including preservation lines, and a huge assortment of consumables (grinding & polishing media, compound) Rösler company, headquartered in Germany, offers solutions for practically any surface treatment problem. In recent months this global market leader has become actively involved in the field of additive manufacturing; specifically, the post processing of 3D-printed components. MFN had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Manuel Laux, head of the newly created Rösler division “AM Solutions” to talk with him about the reasons for this significant strategic move of the company.
(?) MFN: Mr. Laux, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. At the moment, all suppliers of surface treatment technologies are working on solutions for finishing the surface of 3D-printed components. But we have the impression that Rosler is especially engaged in this field. Why?
(!) M. L.: In the past years, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has literally exploded onto the industrial scene. Be it automotive, aerospace, medical engineering, tool manufacturing, etc., no manufacturing technology has been growing faster than additive manufacturing. And of course, as a surface refinement specialist, Rösler is approached daily for improving the surface of 3D-printed components. To help our customers, we discovered that we needed to bundle know-how and familiarize ourselves with this new technology, specifically with the post-processing challenges posed by additive manufacturing…
(?) MFN: Sorry to interrupt, but what do you mean by "post-processing"?
(!) M. L.: Of course! The term post-processing describes all activities required to transform a raw workpiece coming out of the 3D printer into a fully functioning component, including the correct surface finish. Anyway, the more we looked into additive manufacturing, the more we found that our customers were not merely looking for surface finishing solutions but for much broader technical support. That’s when we recognized that the post-processing challenges represented a unique business opportunity.
(?) MFN: Our understanding of additive manufacturing is that it is great for prototyping. Does this really justify your obviously substantial financial commitment to this new technology?
(!) M. L.: If we would just talk about prototyping, our company would not have made such a serious commitment. Additive manufacturing has become a lot more and today is not only used for prototyping but also for volume production of standard parts. For example, BMW recently announced that they have manufactured more than one million window guide rails with 3D printing. No doubt, prototyping still plays an important role. But the focus is now clearly on high-volume production in direct competition with injection molding, casting, die-casting, forging, etc.
(?) MFN: Is 3D printing not just used for plastic materials?
(!) M. L.: This may have been the case a few years ago. Today you can make components from all kinds of plastic and metallic materials, even with such tough metals as cobalt chrome, titanium, and even carbide steel. This technology is not just a fad but is here to stay. And like with mass finishing and shot blasting, we at Rösler intend to become the leader in post-processing of 3D-printed parts.
(?) MFN: Can you tell us a bit about the technical problems that must be overcome with components made by additive manufacturing?
(!) M. L.: Let me just highlight the major challenges: 3D printing is adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic or metal, by fusing/sintering loose powder with a laser beam or another energy source. Usually, this requires a base, a so-called build plate. When the component is completed, it must be separated (“unpacked”) from the build plate and residual powder, either loose or sintered on, must be removed from the component surface. A key issue is that geometrically complex components with overhangs need a support structure during the print process to prevent them from collapsing. Once the product is completed, this support structure must be removed.
(?) MFN: What about surface finishing?
(!) M. L.: This can be quite daunting: The initial surface roughness of 3D -printed parts, expressed in Ra can be as high as 50 microns (2,000 micro inches), sometimes even a lot higher. This is about three3 times the initial surface roughness of castings and forgings. To bring this roughness down to a value of 0.1 micron (4 micro inches) can be a real challenge.
(?) MFN: What are the solutions to these challenges?
(!) M. L.: That’s exactly where Rösler comes in. To assist our customers with all their post-processing issues, we want to offer a complete single source solutions package that, of course, includes shot blasting and mass finishing but also other mechanical methods, even electro-chemical, ultrasound and other technologies.
(?) MFN: You seem to be very upbeat about the possibilities of additive manufacturing. Can you give us some practical examples of successful applications for 3D-printed components?
(!) M. L.: With pleasure! For example, in the aerospace industry, 3D printing is utilized for making not just such trivial products as armrests for the cabin seats in an airplane but also jet engine components. Additive manufacturing allowed GE to reduce the number of components in its advanced turboprop engine from 800 to less than 15. In the automobile industry, AM is used for making car grills, individualized dashboards, steering wheels and window guide rails, to name just a few. In the medical field, 3D printing is used for making individualized implants like cranial plates as well as all kinds of components for medical instruments. Since it allows the precise placement of internal cooling channels, 3D printing also offers significant advantages for toolmaking.
(?) MFN: Didn’t you go a bit overboard by launching a new Rosler brand under the name of AM Solutions? Would you not expect that customers looking for surface finishing solutions for 3D-printed parts would come to you anyhow?
(!) M. L.: That’s exactly the point: We want to be seen as a solutions provider for all post-processing problems, of which surface finishing is, of course, a major part. But in order to do so, we needed to position ourselves not just as a surface finishing specialist but as a technical authority in post-processing of AM components as well. In this connection, most importantly, AM requires a cross-disciplinary approach.
(?) MFN: What qualifies your company for dealing with those post-processing challenges, which have nothing to do with your field of expertise, namely shot blasting and mass finishing?
(!) M. L.: One reason for Rösler’s success has been our focus on process development. In close cooperation with our customers, we develop solutions for their surface-finishing requirements. Naturally, once a process has been defined, we select the most suitable equipment and consumables to run it successfully. Post-processing must be handled in a similar manner. But the approach must be much broader; I would say more cross-disciplinary.
(?) MFN: What do you mean by cross-disciplinary?
(!) M. L.: For example, to achieve the required surface finish on a 3D-printed component, its design may have to be tweaked a bit. That’s why we have invested in sophisticated hardware and software design as well as various 3D printers to provide our customers not only with advice but actual products also. We need to provide expert help that includes design optimization to achieve the best and most cost-efficient post-processing solutions, including surface finishing.
(?) MFN: We understand that you are working with partner companies? Why not keep everything in-house?
(!) M. L.: Yes, we have teamed up with a few companies, who are leaders in their respective fields. Why re-invent the wheel and waste resources if we can work with qualified partners, who offer unique solutions that are beneficial to our customers? For example, our partner GPA Innova offers a dry electro-polishing system for creating perfect, high-gloss surface finishes and has few limitations on part geometry. Post Process Technologies provides solutions for the removal of support structures from 3D-printed plastic parts.
(?) MFN: Is it correct that under the AM Solutions umbrella, you have two separate departments in different countries, namely Germany and Italy. Why not have all activities under one roof? Isn’t this complicating things a bit?
(!) M. L.: Not at all! Our "AM Solutions - 3D post-processing" division located in Germany offers a complete post-processing solutions package, consisting of shot blasting and mass finishing equipment as well as consumables, all specially adapted to additive manufacturing requirements. And, of course, this also includes the equipment from our partner companies.
(?) MFN: What about your Italian operation?
(!) M. L.: You mean our "AM Solutions - 3D printing services". Our Italian branch has been cooperating for quite a while with the Polytechnic University of Milan, s. So it was only natural that we located this division in Italy. "3D printing services" offers engineering support for the complete value-added chain of additive manufacturing. This includes help with the design of new (and re-design) of existing components, printing of prototype products, and auxiliary services like CNC machining, heat treatment, surface finishing, and, even quality control. We are convinced that with our "3D post- processing" and "3D printing services" divisions we are in an excellent position to assist our customers with all aspects of additive manufacturing.
(?) MFN: What technological developments do you see in general for additive manufacturing, and what specific developments do you expect for post-processing?
(!) M. L.: This is a difficult question. We see more and more printing technologies coming to the market. Some of them no longer require support structures, like the metal binder jetting system. But overall, customers will be confronted with an increasing number of choices, which can be a bit overwhelming. But that’s exactly where "AM Solutions" will come in! With our service and equipment package, we can help our customers avoid costly mistakes and obtain the best possible solution for their specific requirements.
(?) MFN: How do you, as a family-owned midsize company, intend to be successful in the additive manufacturing industry, if you have to deal with such powerful players like HP, GE, etc.?
(!) M. L.: With Rösler’s broad knowledge base for developing finishing solutions, an excellent engineering team, its extensive range of equipment and consumables and numerous process development & test centers around the world, no other company is better positioned to provide comprehensive post-processing solutions. The companies you mentioned will be coming to us for help not to compete. As a matter of fact, we just signed a cooperation agreement with HP regarding the automatic post-processing of components made with the HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. Being family-owned is a big advantage: Our owner is not looking for maximizing short-term profits but ensuring the long-term financial success of the company. We are convinced that our cross-disciplinary approach and long-term strategy will allow us to provide the technical post-processing solutions our customers are urgently looking for.
MFN would like to thank Manuel Laux for this interview!