Understanding the Steps of ‘Start to Part’ with Metal Additive Manufacturing
MAY 08, 2023 | Reading time: 3 min
Metal additive manufacturing (AM) is complex, but the path to metal 3D printing expertise is simple. With the help of expert consultants and AM education, your business can successfully integrate industrial metal 3D printing into your production line.
Metal additive manufacturing is an exciting and innovative technology for many businesses, with early adopters like the aerospace and private space industry leading the way. There are many overarching benefits of leveraging metal AM regardless of your industry, but finding which benefits are most important to your application and overall goals of production is crucial to maximizing your AM business success.
When beginning in additive manufacturing, specifically with metals, it is important to ask yourself and your organization a few initial questions to fully understand the production and business case goals:
Why are you considering industrial 3D printing? What are you hoping AM brings to the table for your business?
What part(s) are you interested in 3D printing and why?
What application benefits are you looking to leverage with additive manufacturing? Are you focused on adding customization to your production portfolio, lightweighting, and/or minimizing lead time?
Answering these questions within your organization before embarking on an AM journey can help with narrowing your focus and goals for the application. Industrial 3D printing and scaling with AM can be confusing to those unfamiliar with the process, but by understanding the steps between introducing 3D printing and owning a part production line, you can feel confident to set your business up for success.
The first step: Connecting with an Additive Minds consulting team member and selecting an EOS system
Talking to a consultant on the EOS’ Additive Minds consulting team and selecting the right EOS metal system for your business is crucial to laying the foundation for your future AM production. The initial consultation phase allows the Additive Minds team to understand the application features, material property targets, and production goals you are looking to achieve with industrial 3D printing. The system’s build volume (size) also gives more color to the overall picture of your AM journey and production capabilities. Not all applications are meant to be 3D printed or make a successful business case using AM, so our consultation team will analyze if this is the right manufacturing solution for you.
Insider tip from the EOS metals team - Be open to the possibility that the part(s) you selected for 3D printing may need to be re-designed. There are often bulky, high-volume features in traditionally manufactured parts that are not necessary in AM. Optimizing your part geometry for 3D printing is just as important as the AM system built in to create the optimal ROI for your business.
Step 2: Collaborating with the EOS applications team to refine your application design and project goals
Once you have determined your application goals and system of choice, it is time to begin optimizing your design, surface finish requirements, and the scope of the project with the metals application team. This engineering group is dedicated to the details, or as they say, the last 20% of your application design. The EOS applications team will walk through the metal materials portfolio with your team and begin the conversation of part production for your system and production.
From an outside perspective it might sound like we haven't optimized our process parameters yet, which we have for all of our core materials. The only time we would develop the parameters is if there is a new material a customer wants or they want a unique feature (like thin walls) that need some process tweaking. Maybe make it clear that the build parameters dev is only needed in select situations.
Step 3: Application development and benchmarking
Benchmarking refers to the “practice prints” of your application. These are performed to confirm the desired specifications of your application and highlight the differences and benefits of leveraging AM over the legacy manufacturing strategy that was previously used to produce your part. This is where build modifications and design improvements are integrated into the application file and approved by the customer. The R&D (research and development) team joins forces with the applications team here to work out the kinks of an application and optimize it for additive manufacturing with optimal part performance.
Insider tip from the EOS metals team – When finding the right application for AM, take note of the application’s angles and wall thickness. Multiple steep angles on a metal AM application will require additional support structures and post-processing, which can still be viable for 3D printing, but will add extra time to part finishing. Large wall thickness will drive up material usage and overall cost-per-part where it is not necessarily needed. If you are converting an original CAD (Computer Aided Design) file to an STL file for printing, leverage SolidWorks or CAD in Magics to produce the best STL file. These are more expensive methods of converting your application file but will save time and money down the line with fewer STL file errors.
Step 4: Confirming application performance requirements and desired surface finish
Once you have finalized your application design, it is time to confirm that the product is meeting the intended part performance qualification markers and has the correct surface finish. Qualification tests the application in multiple stressor environments and proves its ability to perform under the environmental pressures it may endure. Post-processing, the last step of AM production, is often overlooked in the 3D printing journey. Post-processing allows for removal of support structures (if needed), surface smoothing of applications, and heat treatment options that are specially tailored based on your part(s), giving them the polished look many organizations provide with their applications. Once all elements are confirmed, the design file and production parameters are set.
The last step: Deciding your long-term goals and how to continue AM in your production line
Once your application is ready for 3D printing production, there are a few paths available to your business on how to move forward. If you are bringing AM production in house, it is time to begin educating your internal engineering team on how to leverage additive manufacturing in the future. The EOS Additive Minds Academy is a great resource to internal teams, allowing organizations to participate in AM education at their own pace.
If your organization is not ready to take on AM alone, beginning an AM Turnkey solution is another avenue that allows businesses to leverage AM without necessarily producing parts in house. AM Turnkey is simple – you purchase a system, but the system never leaves the EOS shop floor. Instead, it rents space in the EOS Austin facility, where your team of engineers runs and manages the system’s production with our AM engineers alongside them, allowing teams to develop and adjust any specific validation requirements of your application with our experts assisting throughout the journey. This allows for a more gradual adoption of AM and peace of mind that those who know the technology best are managing it in the beginning.
Insider tip from the EOS metals team – If your organization is in the waiting period between finalizing your application design and your system delivery and set-up, begin the AM Academy courses and work through as many as possible before the system arrives. This allows for your internal engineering team to feel prepared and set up for success before even interacting with your new AM system.
Interested in getting started with metal 3D printing? Reach out to the Additive Minds team today to chat with a consultant about your 3D printing goals.