What is depowdering?
Depowdering is an important step of the postprocessing in additive manufacturing right after the printing of a metal laser melted part. The part is full of fine powder after the printing, which is rather challenging especially when the component has complex inner channels or cavities. However, for downstream processes, like heat treatment or support removal, this powder must be removed completely. The removal of this fine powder is called depowdering. The unique Solukon Smart Powder Recuperation technology SPR® enables a fully automated depowdering.
What is Solukon`s Mission?
Solukon aims to establish its position as market leader of automated powder removal. The company’s mission is to develop systems that make AM postprocessing safe, automated, efficient and cost effective.
Why is automated depowdering of AM parts profitable compared to manual depowdering?
Automated depowdering enables reproducible and predictable cleaning results. It is time saving and more effective, as no remaining powder will be spread out to the follow-up processes. Health risks and fire hazard are reduced to a minimum.
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?
The Solukon Smart Powder Recuperation Technology SPR® 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 and intricate channels. 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 cleaning results reproducible?
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 process can be recorded as part of the manufacturing certification process.
What is the average time required to clean parts?
The time required to clean parts varies largely, as it depends on the complexity of processed parts. Feel free to contact application management to get an insight into user cases.
How do we secure the handling of reactive materials?
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.
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. This means, reactive powder can be collected reliably. The Solukon system can be connected to an automated recycling system.
How is the dust prevented from leaving the machine?
The cleaning process takes place in a sealed chamber. The front door and the roof (optional) are both tightly closed with a double sealing. The machine exhaust, where air or inert gas is being extracted from the chamber provides a nozzle to connect a hose to lead the exhaust out of the building. The exhaust air and gases are filtered by a double filtration system (HEPA), so no particulate matter will leave the cabin during the process. Before the front door can be opened a safety interlock system with a run down timer makes sure all dust clouds in the machine are settled.
Is there a LOTO (“lock out, tag out) procedure for Solukon machines?
1. The door has a safety door lock that has to be opened by a button
2. After pushing the Emergency-Stop off/on the machine has to be restarted with an extra on/off button
3. After turning the main-switch off/on the machine has to be restarted with an extra on/off button
4. The electric cabinet is only openable with a switched off main-switch. The main-switch can be locked with a padlock.
Can you integrate our systems in automated production lines?
Yes. Our large cleaning systems, the SFM-AT800/-S and SFM-AT1000-S, 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. Furthermore, Solukon offers the Digital Factory Tool (available for SFM-AT800/-S and SFM-AT1000-S) for quality assurance and automation integration as an option.
Can the depowdering system be operated remotely?
Our system can be integrated and controlled by UPC UA. SFM-AT-800/-S and SFM-AT1000-S provide both USB and ethernet ports
What if I 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. We have already developed individual solutions for a number of clients, for example ExOne.
How many cleaning programs can be saved in the machine?
The amount of cleaning programs to be saved depends on the size of the USB stick being used to feed the machine with cleaning programs and the size of the cleaning programs. Usually, several hundred programs can be saved.
Are there any geometries that cannot be depowdered?
Our customers work in virtually every line of business. As far as of today all our customers have reported extraordinary cleaning results. We do not know of any produced geometries that have not been depowdered. Of course, physical limitations also apply to our depowdering methods, such as closed cavities, where powder is trapped inside or very narrow channels where powder particles are partially sintered to the walls.
Please contact us for further information regarding the limitations of depowdering.
Are there different operating modes of the metal machines?
Yes, depending on the machine, there are four modes:
1.Manual Mode: The part is moved freely in any spatial position by using a remote-joystick or via arrow buttons.
2.Automatic Mode: The turntable rotates permanently and the horizontal axis moves between two programmable limits.
3. Profile Mode: You have the opportunity to save manually sought positions and connect them to a program. Each position can be assigned further functions, such as waiting time, vibrator on/off, moving speed to the next position and more.
You can save up to 1000 positions. Each position can also be edited manually. The programs are CSV-files so you can save as many programs as you want also external on a memory stick, etc.
4. Intelligent Mode: Siemens developed a unique software that analyses the geometry of the part based on the STL-file in collaboration with us. Then the software calculates the necessary move-algorithm to depowder also labyrinth-like internal channels.
Can the cleaning parameters be adjusted?
Yes, depending on the system you are using multiple parameters can be set by the operator. Besides the speed and the limits of movement, the operator can also program a whole cleaning sequence. This includes the part movement and adjustment of vibration.
How much inert gas is required for inerting the cleaning chamber?
The amount of inert gas depends on the type and size of the depowdering system. Please consider the fact sheets.
Installation and maintenance
Can the depowdering machine be installed near 3D printing machines?
Yes, as the vibrating mounting plate is decoupled with the rest of the machine via dampers, the machines are safe to be placed near AM machines.
How much maintenance does the machine need?
Our machine design makes our system a reliable workhorse. Maintenance is reduced to a minimum and generally only involves keeping the machine clean and maintaining the filtration system.