The world of manufacturing can seem impenetrable at times. For those without deep industry knowledge, many of the processes that underpin the production of core parts can be difficult to understand. Even for those with years of experience, new advances in manufacturing can be tough to keep up with.
At Velo3D, we always strive to make these advances accessible and understandable for engineers and other stakeholders that are looking to learn about the nuances of metal additive parts manufacturing. In part one of this series, we explored what metal additive manufacturing (AM) is, and in part two we distinguished metal AM from other traditional forms of manufacturing.
In this installment of the series we’ll explore advanced metal AM, specifically the end-to-end solution pioneered by Velo3D: how it works, and how it stands in contrast to conventional AM systems.
Simplifying the Design Process
One of the major challenges that constrains conventional AM solutions is the design process. For an AM printer to manufacture a part, the part needs to be formatted into a language the printer understands. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as uploading a file and simply pressing “print”.
Traditionally, parts are designed using computer-aided design (CAD) files. With conventional AM systems, these CAD files are uploaded and then translated or “sliced” into layers of discrete STL files which tell the printer how to construct the part.
While this process may sound innocuous, the reality is this translation process doesn’t always keep the original design intent intact. This compromise is part of what’s known as Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM), and in conventional AM systems, the DfAM process often means making drastic reductions to the complexity of the part, which ultimately compromises the original intent of the design.
Velo3D’s advanced metal AM solution handles this process differently, allowing users to upload native CAD files to its Flow™ preprint software without slicing them into hundreds of STL files the way conventional AM systems do. By upending the conventional DfAM process, Flow™ can create files for print that retain significantly more complexity and preserve the original intent of the design.
And, because Flow™ is integrated into Velo3D’s printing hardware, there is no issue with parts being printed as designed. Any design issues that would threaten the print’s viability can be easily adjusted within the Flow™ software by applying tried-and-true design elements with the click of a button from a catalog of recipes within the software. This simplified, intuitive approach to CAD translation is revolutionary in the metal AM space.
A Next-Generation Printing System
With design files translated and optimized for print, the manufacturing process can begin. For Velo3D and other AM solutions, the printing process is done through a process known as laser powder-bed fusion (LPBF).
For LPBF to be successful, it begins with precisely controlled environmental conditions within the build chamber. Any atmospheric imperfections can mean fissures forming or other defects in the finalized part. Controlling these environmental conditions can be a challenge for many conventional AM printers. At Velo3D, we deploy extensive in-situ metrology sensors that closely monitor all environmental conditions and can pause the build in real-time to adjust if conditions may threaten build quality.
With the environment controlled, the next factor is the print itself. In LPBF, thin layers of metal powder are laid down on the powder bed and heated to their melt point using precisely calibrated lasers. In many conventional AM printing processes, parts need to be manufactured using support structures to hold the part in place and account for the natural warping metal undergoes during the heating and cooling process. At Velo3D, the precision of our laser calibration enables a printing process that accomplishes the same or better quality parts without the need for extensive supports. Printing SupportFree™ means printed parts require less post-processing, tooling, and cost.
During the LPBF process, parts are built layer-by-layer from the powder bed up. Once one layer has been laid and precisely heated using lasers, another layer of powder is laid on top using a recoater blade. The recoater process can be a challenge for many conventional AM systems; as the blade crosses the plane, any contact with the current layers can crash the build. Velo3D has developed a proprietary non-contact recoater capable of clearing the powder bed without risk of collision or threat to the build.
What Happens When a Print is Complete?
In the end, the printing process yields a rough, close-to-final part. For conventional AM systems, however, the hard part is just the beginning. Parts with more complex internal structures or thin walls will often require extensive tooling and post-processing, which means additional labor and material costs as well as time.
Through the synergy of next-generation preprint software and unrivaled hardware, Velo3D can achieve complex print features including overhangs, thin walls, and channels without the need for supports. What that means for engineers is freedom within their design process and the confidence in knowing that their print will be achieved to their specifications—without compromise.
The final challenge that faces manufacturers is validation and qualification. Most industries need parts to meet strict regulatory standards for approval; and with conventional AM systems that typically means extensive testing and validation once the printing and post-processing steps are achieved.
As an end-to-end system, Velo3D integrates in-situ reporting through every step of the build process, layer by layer. Our Assure™ software closely monitors every phase of the build and automatically creates extensive build reports which can be crucial in the validation and qualification process.
Enabling all the above is Velo3D’s Intelligent Fusion®, which is the underlying manufacturing process that binds Flow™, Sapphire®, and Assure™ into a complete end-to-end manufacturing solution by managing the information flow, sensor data, and the advanced printing technology for precision control of the entire 3D metal printing process.
The core challenge facing many industries is basic: how do you manufacture a part? There are countless answers, and each answer brings its own set of constraints. As metal AM continues to evolve, with Velo3D at the vanguard of innovation, it’s rapidly becoming one of the more reliable, repeatable processes on the market today. Through the end-to-end synergy of software and hardware, Velo3D is enabling design freedom and consistent, quality parts manufacturing without compromise.
Interested in getting started with metal AM? Reach out to one of Velo3D’s expert engineers today.