One of the common misconceptions surrounding metal AM is that it’s only suited for one-off parts and prototypes. As the technology has evolved, however, advances have broadened the scope of metal AM to be a reliable option for serial parts production.
The most important quality that has emerged in metal AM—particularly the advanced, end-to-end metal AM solution pioneered by Velo3D—is repeatability.
Through the synergy of pre-print software and advanced 3D printing hardware with integrated metrology and data collection, teams can now expect reliable, repeatable results with metal AM that were inconceivable just years ago.
In this article, we discuss the barriers that have challenged repeatability in traditional metal AM systems, and how those barriers are overcome through Velo3D’s end-to-end metal AM solution.
Hardware Precision is Key for Repeatability
Repeatability is a challenge in any manufacturing process; controlling all of the parameters and physics of a build to be identical each time is immensely complicated.
One reason many conventional metal AM systems struggle to achieve serial parts production is cumbersome calibration and unreliable build execution, and the challenge is exponentially greater when production is reliant on separate software translating to hardware to replicate a part exactly.
Where Velo3D is revolutionizing part repeatability in metal AM is through end-to-end integration and unprecedented ease of calibration, as well as process monitoring with specific in-situ adjustments, and fully developed print parameters that ensures repeatability.
Part of what makes calibration such a unique challenge for metal AM is the regular need for specialized external hardware and field service engineer support from a machine’s original equipment manufacturer which drives up the mean time between calibrations; this in turn exposes the manufacturing process to drift and exposes the process to potential nonconformance.
Another part of what makes production such a unique challenge for metal AM is the variance in material properties from one build to the next, or even from one location to the next on a build plate. These variations develop from infrequent calibration, inability to monitor the process, and inadequately developed process parameters.
At Velo3D, we’ve pioneered a one-click calibration system that eliminates those previously mentioned barriers. Understanding that laser powder bed fusion is a highly sensitive process, having frequent calibrations, recommended once per week but at times being performed prior to every build, is essential to producing repeatable results.
Because every machine is the same, and calibration parameters are so closely monitored, no matter what machine a team is using, the part will print the same.
Advanced Hardware and Software Working Together
No matter how good your print hardware is, there will always be a threat to repeatability if the hardware isn’t integrated with software.
One of the major challenges that has limited conventional metal AM printers was a breakdown in translation. To produce a printed part, a CAD file must be translated to an STL file.
This introduces variation and loses the intelligence of the initial surface representations created in the CAD software. Depending on how many different people create an STL translation and what software and translation settings are used, each and every one of those discrete models presents an opportunity for variance and error.
Velo3D combines these separate parts into one complete solution. Our advanced print preparation software, Flow™ integrates directly with our family of Sapphire® printers.
Instead of slicing STL files composed of triangular meshes of varying fidelity or resolution, Flow™ operates seamlessly with native CAD geometry and directly imports the native CAD models, preserving the original design intent. A print file is then generated, which is a self-contained set of instructions that doesn’t rely on external parameter files or machine settings to be created.
The above is crucial, as it minimizes errors common when the workflow is fragmented into discrete sets that involve various file format conversions and a mixture of third party and machine OEM software.
This file contains all of the laser instructions used by the machine to generate the solid metal part and can be locked down and stored in a product lifecycle management system for revision control and tracking.
Once a print has been qualified and successful, the resulting file—what we refer to as the Golden Print File—can be printed on any Velo3D printer anywhere in the world.
The Golden Print File is the key to a completely scalable and repeatable print process. And because parts set up in Flow™ are designed to only print on Sapphire® printers, they can be printed on demand, anywhere in the world using the same self-contained print file. Thanks to quick and easy one-click calibration checks, an engineering team in California can share a Golden Print file with a team in Japan and the part will come out the same. This repeatability is increasingly valuable in an era where supply chains are stretched thin.
Software isn’t merely limited to design and preprint calibration either. At Velo3D, our end-to-end solution also integrates thorough process monitoring and quality assurance. Known as Assure™, this integrated software analyzes every step of the build, layer by layer, to generate detailed reports of the printing process.
Having a full understanding of any errors in the build is crucial for repeatability. Not only can the process be adjusted in the future to eliminate risk of future part imperfections, but this detailed data analysis can be critical in part validation and qualification.
Indeed, one of the most important aspects of parts manufacturing is confidence in the process backed by evidence. While some conventional metal AM systems claim to have robust calibration procedures, in-situ process monitoring, and usable metric logs, oftentimes these calibrations are iterative and conducted at intervals which attempt to balance production efficiency and process assurance.
Additionally, process data and logs can be unusable or insufficient for part certification and validation. As a result, defects in the print are only discovered through print failures or post-build inspection methods.
The Implications of a Repeatable, Advanced Metal AM System
Repeatability in metal AM transforms the technology from a unique tool for one-off parts and prototypes to a fully scalable parts production system.
At Velo3D, the synergy of advanced software and next-gen hardware helps ensure an unprecedented level of repeatability in manufacturing.
The end-to-end Velo3D system has wide-reaching implications across countless industries that rely on complex core parts, and the Velo3D Golden Print Files enables the conditions for a more agile and distributed supply chain.
Instead of relying on complex networks of separate manufacturing partners that control different aspects of the build process, any part can be printed anywhere in the world with substantially less lead time and greater repeatability.
Are you interested in learning more about Velo3D’s advanced metal AM solution? Get in touch with one of our experts today to see how we’re revolutionizing manufacturing.