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(Image courtesy of EOS.)
Over the last two decades, additive manufacturing (AM) has evolved from a quick way to make crude functional prototypes into a preferred production technology for advanced parts in medical, aerospace and other industries. For professional users, this evolution has been determined both by materials and by the availability of professional equipment designed for real manufacturing applications.
However, running production parts on desktop 3D printers simply will not provide the necessary quality. Instead, industrial-grade printers have come into focus in order to build higher quality production parts with improved productivity.
, a business of EOS and a leading industrial 3D printing technology supplier, has launched a new machine based on the laser sintering process and designed to work as a true production unit: the .
Laser Sintering Explained
EOS has been developing laser sintering (LS) for 20 years. LS is simple in concept: a thin layer of powder is applied evenly to a build platform, a powerful laser beam traces a pattern onto the powder bed, and the resulting energy fuses the powder into a cross-sectional layer of the desired part in the X-Y build plane.
(Image courtesy of EOS.)
Once a layer is completed the powder bed is lowered along the Z-axis, a fresh layer of powder is applied and the process repeats. Each layer bonds to the previous layer, which yields a solid part at the end of the process. Keeping tight control of the multitude of critical parameters is key to the process of creating a high-quality build.
Some traditional concepts of manufacturing must be put aside when using additive manufacturing processes such as LS.
“One unique thing about additive manufacturing that is different from the machine tool world is that it's like a little chemical plant. It's not just taking a block and drilling a hole into it or cutting one end off,” says David Leigh, chief operating officer at EOS North America. “You're actually doing materials processing and changing the material inside the machine. You're going from a powder, melting it, and then fusing it back together layer by layer.”
The differences between subtractive and additive manufacturing put a premium on both smart design and production capability in modern shops. AM has a noticeable learning curve, and manufacturers who have previous experience with additive prototyping will find it easier to integrate this system into their workflow.
“For those people that have already been working with additive manufacturing, they intuitively know how the processes work and how to design for additive. As new people are introduced to the technology and come into the field, they will have to be trained on how to design for AM,” says Leigh.
“Additive manufacturing is different in the way you do the initial setup and in the part design. Customers who have experience in this usually have a little bit of a head start, but with new technologies provided today, such as AM-specific software provided by multiple software companies, it's making it a lot easier for the newer customers to get involved and be successful,” he adds.
INTEGRA P 450: Designed for Production
With the combination of powerful, easier-to-use software and an increasing interest from the manufacturing community for additive as a production tool, began a project to develop the INTEGRA P 450, a mid-size additive machine for the manufacturing market.
Developing a new machine such as the INTEGRA P 450 is never easy. Starting from a clean slate when designing equipment allows for a step-change in technology, but introduces risk—and in manufacturing, risk must be controlled for program success.
“I think from a development standpoint, with engineers there are really two camps,” Leigh relates. “One is, ‘Let's just make something totally new’ and the other is, ‘Well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, so let's just take what's already working and build on that.’ You can take some of those two approaches, and adopt things from different offerings and different 3D printing or additive manufacturing equipment, to get the best of all worlds. Just like a car, you don't need to go invent a new wheel. Just use a wheel.”
Automotive vehicles work as a logical analogy for manufacturing equipment; however, additive 2000彩 are as much about software as they are about steppers and actuators.
“We talk about long term design, so we call it a platform. To define the term, I would say that the i2000彩登陆网址Phone is a platform,” Leigh says. “As the i2000彩登陆网址Phone moves from the i2000彩登陆网址Phone 4, 5 or 6, Apple then develops new products on that platform. Just because a product is on the same platform doesn't mean that everything's exactly the same, but it's the same kind of general field.”
“So, we see the INTEGRA P 450 as being a new platform for us that we can build and hang new things onto it. From that standpoint, it's not built on any other EOS backbone, but there are components in it that are already in inventory and used in other systems,” Leigh says.
This is a classic way of designing new 2000彩 that are adapted to a new type of manufacturing technology: create a new framework with functional groups adapted from proven designs in order to make a higher performance whole that forms the basis for further development.
Introducing additive manufacturing into an existing facility involves more than simply bolting new equipment into production lines. Large original equipment manufacturers in the automotive and aerospace industries have significant qualification requirements before a new technology is approved for production operations. Receiving this approval often signals to their supplier base that a new machine is ready for “prime time.”
“We have several large OEMs that we've worked with. They typically take their engineering team, and their materials and processing team, and buy a piece of equipment, bring it in and get to understand it,” Leigh explains. “Then they do the vetting of the technology along with an analysis of what their goal is for the design. Once they have a good understanding of it, they push it out to their supply chain and start qualifying with that supply chain. The idea is that by the time they reach that point, they've already qualified the machine and the material. That's why we’ve partnered with several of those large OEMs, to qualify the 2000彩 and materials.”
The benefits from these partnerships work in both directions. The Tier One and Two suppliers can source customer-approved 2000彩 with approved materials from the outset, while the OEM customers get higher quality, production-ready parts.
What Does the INTEGRA P 450 Offer?
The uses LS technology and offers a build volume of 420 x 420 x 500 mm (16.6 x 16.5 x 19.7 in.) and is built on the same platform as the INTEGRA P 400 polymer AM system that was introduced by EOS North America in 2018.
“The INTEGRA P 450 was designed from the ground up for production. It’s not a prototype system, but a production system,” says Leigh.
“We wanted a system that was very reliable, very serviceable, very industrial—a system that didn't take a truck load of equipment to install or fix if it broke.”
While the idea of user-centered machine design seems intuitive, much of the additive machine industry is still based on prototyping, where users are expected to tolerate complexity and downtime at rates impossible for production shops.
(Image courtesy of EOS.)
“We all see that there's a need to have the user at the forefront of developing equipment. Many times, the system companies—3D printing, or any company—they don't always have the user in mind or service in mind,” says Leigh. “In this case, we talk about long-term design. That’s why we call it a platform.”
By basing the new INTEGRA P 450 on the existing INTEGRA P 400 platform, system reliability and serviceability are built into a unit optimized for bigger, faster part-making. Manufacturing service bureaus are a major user base for additive technology, and were consulted extensively in the development of the INTEGRA P 450.
“We interviewed several large service bureaus about their day to day activity: how they set up the 2000彩, how they ran the 2000彩, what the biggest selling points were, what they liked the best. We took that information and put it into one system,” says Mike Connor, vice president of service at EOS.
“A lot of the interest we've had historically on the INTEGRA P 400 is from customers who have done a little bit of additive manufacturing with different technologies. They're coming into this technology because of the strides that were made in the material and build volume, as well as the build speed,” Connor adds.
“So, we have a combination: new customers that are getting into the game and customers that we've worked with for years and years that are also getting into the INTEGRA P 450. We’ve designed the machine around repeatability, and it gets the right surface finishes. We’ve also developed new materials over the last several years that have really opened the doors to allow us to go into manufacturing using additive.”
Manufacturing is all about control, and controlling a tiny spot of laser-heated resin in a sealed chamber is anything but easy. To this end, the INTEGRA P 450 system has eight independent heating zones for more consistent part production and a thermal imaging camera for quality control and data-capture.
“The key differentiator for this system over other systems is the built-in IR camera as part of the machine,” says Connor. “This is really geared for production people who want to validate the build. The other differentiation is that it's a reasonably priced high-temp/mid-temp machine, ideal for automotive and aerospace.”
EOS’ market research demonstrated that many service bureaus operate as prototype shops first, then move into short or medium-run contract manufacturing. Short run production introduces a major issue for any manufacturer: downtime for setup and changeover.
“There are features in the INTEGRA P 450 designed so that the machine doesn't have to sit idle for very long between runs. This enables the 2000彩 to run 24/7 and with a short turnaround period,” says Connor.
While EOS is a global technology company, the INTEGRA P 450 is noteworthy for another reason: it was designed and built primarily in the U.S. at the EOS North America Technical Center in Pflugerville, Texas. This follows the success of the INTEGRA P 400, which was designed for the North American market where the manufacturing culture is most open to taking a risk on new technology.
“They go out there and they inherently understand the risks and rewards for being first. I think that we see that in so many North American companies, that risk-reward by chasing innovative things,” says Leigh. “What Dr. Langer, the founder of EOS, has done is to acquire Integra and Advanced Laser Materials, which does material development in North America. Dr. Langer sees a global company, not just a Bavarian company. I think that's the distinction; we’re a global company and we act globally.”
To learn more about the INTEGRA P 450, visit .