Updated: May 6, 2020
Automated post-processing solutions aim to transform the manual processes of support removal and surface finish into digital ones. At which point companies using Additive Manufacturing should consider buying such systems and how fast they can return their investment?
Source: PostProcess Technologies - DEMI support removal system
In recent years we have seen an increasing number of companies developing solutions that aim to scale up digital manufacturing. From 3D software solutions such as design tools, optimization, workflow management and simulation to faster metal and plastic industrial 3D printers. These solutions enable companies to streamline their additive ECO-system, and produce large amount of 3D printed parts. Leaving the post-processing step manual will ensure scalability will stay quite limited. To solve this issue, automated post-processing systems were born.
When automated post-processing solutions are required?
There are two situations in which automation of post-processing solutions can be considered:
> Large amount of parts - imagine a service bureau running more than several 3D printers around the clock, producing dozens of parts. At a certain point, leaving post-processing to manual labor will create a big bottle neck in finishing and delivering the final parts to customers.
> Complicated geometries - removing the support from large parts with complicated geometries such as a car engine model takes much more time than a simple dental part. Furthermore, the final result in a manual process is far from perfect from obvious reasons.
How to calculate the ROI?
In both cases, the first step in examining the return on investment is comparing the required labor in the manual process to the automated one. If for example, we take 20 parts in a day cycle and compare we get the following:
> Manual process – 5 min for each part x 20 = 100 min
> Automatic process – 2 min for each part x 20 = 40 min
The automated process decreased the technician touch time by 60%. If we take an hourly cost of such technician low as 50 euro per hour, for each part the cost saving will be 30 euro, and for 20 parts it will be 600 euro per day. If we examine these numbers per month, we start to get the picture – cost saving of 13,200 euro per month. Automated post-processing systems costs between 25,000 euro – 140,000 euro. Even in a conservative calculation that includes additional costs and factors, in such cases the return on the investment in a matter of months.
Source: PostProcess Technologies - Automated support removal in only 2 minutes per part
Additional key benefits
Here are additional three benefits that makes automated post-processing much more efficient then manual processes, and that save considerable amount of time and money:
Besides costs reduction, there is another important factor to consider - repeatability. In high probability, the consistency in removing the support and/or smoothing the surface of 20 parts in a manual process will be lower than an automated process combined from hardware, data driven software and chemicals. This becomes even more important when end-use parts are involved. If digital manufacturing really aims to replace traditional methods, without consistency in the whole process, scalability will not be possible.
Any additive manufacturing user who will integrate automated post-processing solutions in his ECO-system will be able to scale up his entire workflow – from design to end-use parts. Once having the right solutions on the software side and on the printing side, there is no sense leaving the support removal and surface finish steps to manual labor. This is true both for sites that are currently experiencing a bottle neck in these processes or foreseeing them in the future.
Reducing damaged parts
Anyone who is involved in manually removing support structures and polishing 3D printed parts is familiar with the issue of damaging parts. As an example, removing breakaway support in FDM technology is not always easy, especially when high-temp materials are involved. It’s true also for the post-processing steps in other technologies like metal, Polyjet, SLA and others. Working with an automated system with minimum manual intervention reduces the amount of damage parts close to zero.