What is Solukon`s Mission and Vision
The founders of Solukon have been active in the field of engineering of additive manufacturing (AM) systems for more than 15 years. In the course of its engineering work, the company encountered first-hand the difficulties of post-processing and developed a range of automated depowdering systems to improve the task of removing excess powder from metal AM processes. The company’s vision and mission is to develop systems that make AM post-processes safe, automated, efficient and cost effective.
What is the pain of Metal Powder in AM?
After completion of the manufacturing process, residual unused metal powder has to be removed from the printed parts. During powder removal, the system operator unavoidably comes into contact with unbound particulate matter. This metal material is very fine, and is light enough to be airborne in many cases. It is generally harmful to health. There is a risk that it may enter the body via the respiratory tract or through the skin. If released into the air in a closed space, creating clouds of dust, it may result in a dangerously explosive atmosphere. At the same time, manual powder removal is also time-consuming, and the cleaning results are unpredictable with variable reproducibility. These factors carry a high cost.
How do we make depowdering safe and efficient?
Our technology is based on automatic rotation of the laser melted build platform containing the AM parts, within a hermetically sealed chamber and employing adjustable vibration. Through programmable rotation of the part, non-fused build material is removed from complex voids, lattice structures and fine supports. The systems integrates existing manual and automated blowing devices. In addition to mitigating the health and safety risks, users are able to significantly reduce cleaning time and improve the collection and recycling of expensive unused powders. Some users have reported labor reduction of up to 90% over manual powder removal processes.
How do we make the handling hazardous materials safe?
Metal powder is very fine and in general harmful to health. It may enter the body via the respiratory tract or the through the skin. To avoid contact with particulate matter, the Solukon process takes place within a closed and sealed chamber. Air introduced at pressure leaves the sealed process chamber via a HEPA-filtration system. In general, the system is always primed for dust extraction by vacuum. For additional safety, airflow of the extraction system is controlled by a sensor. When low airflow is detected, the cleaning mode in the chamber is disabled. In addition, we provide special training for occupational health and safety professionals relating to the issues of working with hazardous metal powder.
How do we secure the handling of reactive materials?
Some kinds of metal powders can be reactive and might create an explosive atmosphere when released into the air in a closed space. During the cleaning process, dust clouds may appear in the process chamber. To protect against the risk of explosion, our system includes the following features:
- The automatic cleaning process limits the creation of airborne dust through minimal, yet efficient, rotation and vibration functions
- The controlled infusion of inert argon or nitrogen gas avoids the risk of explosion
- Sealed, conductive and ignition-free design of the process chamber avoids the detonation of a dust cloud
In addition, we provide training on the occupational health and safety aspects of working with hazardous metal powder.
What happens to the powder?
The powder falls directly into a funnel at the base of the process chamber.From there it can be removed through a double valve system into special containers for reuse. With this system, it is also possible to remove the powder under inert conditions, so that reactive powder can be collected reliably. The Solukon system can be connected to an automated recycling system.
How much maintenance does the machine need?
Our machine design makes our system a reliable workhorse. Our systems are manufactured in Germany using high-quality and proven components. Maintenance is reduced to a minimum, and generally only involves keeping the machine clean and maintaining the filtration system.
How do we make the cleaning results reproducible?
For many production processes, such as in the medical and aerospace segments, documentation and certification of the cleaning process is necessary. Solukon has developed software that enables the manual saving of positioning of the build plate containing the metal parts being cleaned. For each position, times for vibration, pausing and overall speed of the process can be set. As a result, you can set and record a reproducible cleaning process for every part geometry or build job. The parameters of each cleaning cycling can be recorded as part of the manufacturing certification process.
Can you integrate our systems in automated production lines?
We see automation as a major step for making additive manufacturing suitable for industrial production, for reasons of cost, health and safety. Our large cleaning system, the SFM-AT800, can be equipped with an automatic rear door, providing for loading and automated clamping systems for the part using robots. Our system can be integrated and controlled by UPC/UA.
What if you need customized solutions?
We are engineers at heart. Whatever your needs, we will be pleased to look at them and check if we can provide solutions.