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Additive Manufacturing Design Case for Optimized Production

Etteplan offers a comprehensive set of services related to the creation of additive manufactured goods. We combine additive manufacturing expertise with our company-wide excellence in the fields of mechanical engineering and simulation techniques.

AM design case for optimized production

Etteplan was asked to redesign the 2-to-1 dust extraction channel for a customer’s robotic sander for additive manufacturing. The existing traditionally manufactured component suffered from high costs, was not aesthetically pleasing, had a long logistics chain, and too large of a footprint which caused problems in the assembly line. The customer hoped for a new solution that would be optimized for production by LPBF in aluminum or another metal, and would also be significantly lighter than the original, produced at lower cost, and have improved airflow characteristics.

Design for additive manufacturing in Etteplan is conducted by carefully selected multi-disciplinary teams that use a simulation-driven design approach. By choosing the right experts for every project, we are able to tackle even the most challenging engineering or manufacturing problems. Our experience has led to efficient workflows that guarantee fast results. 

Simulation-driven design approach

Etteplan assembled a team that included experts in AM production, AM design, and print process simulation. Both Etteplan’s own additive manufacturing production cost estimation tool and AM process simulation software were utilized throughout the design process.

Image: Dust extraction channel AM design evolution, starting with traditionally manufactured component on the left.

A first AM design iteration of the extraction channel design saw smoothing of the internal air channels and removal of excess material. At this point the process simulation software was used to conduct an orientation optimization whereby the effect of print orientation on build time, support volume, needed post-processing effort and predicted deformation/distortion levels could be analyzed. It was found that two orientations of the extraction channel produced comparable and preferred results in terms of support volume, post-processing and deformations. These orientations resulted in the longest print times for the manufacture of a single component, but they took a minimal area reservation on the build plate – meaning that when the build plate was fully nested with these components, the per-component print time is actually lower than other orientation options.

Orientation optimization results with two preferred orientations shown (top). Color plots comparing over 200 orientations of the part with green regions indicating shortest build time, lowest support volume, least post-processing needed and smallest deformations and red indicating the opposite (bottom).  The added blue and orange boxes in the color plots correspond to the orientations similar to that with the matching outline on top.

Additional modifications were made to the design to improve printability in the preferred orientations and to eliminate the need for support structures in regions that would be visible to the end-user after assembly. Print process simulations of the extraction channel in the chosen orientations was used in order to determine where support structures would be required, to ensure that print-direction distortions would not cause collision with the recoater during manufacture, and to check that the final distortion levels of the component were within reason. 

Nesting for cost-efficient industrial 3D printing

The Etteplan AM cost estimation tool was also utilized during this stage to estimate and compare the costs of various design options with the original traditionally manufactured part. It was found that for the amount of material and print time needed, it was too expensive to additively manufacture a single part.  However, printing 11 parts at once was determined to be the cross-over point whereby the traditionally and additively manufactured parts would cost approximately the same amount.

Further design changes were made so that the number of nested parts produced in a single build were maximized by allowing the parts to be stacked 4-high in the print direction. This meant that a total of 120 pieces could be printed in one job. Process simulation was again used to estimate support structures needed and to simulate the print process for a stack of four extraction channels.

Four-stack of the dust extraction channel with support structures (left), and distortion results from the process simulation with no distortion shown in green, and increased levels shown in red, yellow and highest in white.

Results exceed customer’s expectations

By modifying the extraction channel design to allow stacking in the print-direction and maximizing the number of parts that could be printed in a single build job, the cost of manufacturing a single piece was reduced by 40% compared to the traditionally manufactured component. Further savings can be seen due to the creation of a more agile supply chain and the ability to produce the parts locally on demand and with variable batch sizes. 

The new extractor channel design also featured a number of benefits beyond cost reduction: 

  • Over 50% reduction in weight
  • More aesthetically pleasing, with careful planning ensuring that the best possible surface quality was achieved on those regions visible to the end-customer after assembly within the robotic sander 
  • Significantly better airflow characteristics
  • A new style of tube connection (thread) was introduced that was easier to assemble than the original part

Component codes embedded on the surface

First prototypes of the dust extraction channels (Printing by 3DStep)

Process parameter optimization for further cost reductions

As the dust extraction channels are not significant load-bearing structures, fully dense material with best mechanical properties is not a requirement of the end-product.  Therefore this is a particularly good case where a “good enough” approach to AM process parameter selection should be considered.  By allowing certain regions of the end component to be slightly more porous, significant print time reductions (and therefore cost savings) can be achieved.  For the 4-stack extraction channel design, Etteplan worked with SLM Solutions to optimize the process parameters for speed in the regions where the part is not visible (threaded inlets/outlets) while assigning the standard high quality process parameter set to the rest of the part.  In addition, support structures were optimized to minimize material usage and to make powder removal easier.  With these efforts, the print time of the full build was reduced by 25%

Keys to success

Etteplan’s final design of the robotic sander extraction channel met and exceeded all of the customer’s initial AM design objectives. This was made possible by close collaboration and good communication between the customer, Etteplan, SLM Solutions and the service bureau where the parts were produced (3DStep).

It also depended on the combined expertise of the assembled project team who were able to harness the design freedoms of AM and had a strong understanding of the manufacturing process to produce a high-quality product at low cost. Decision-making during the design process was significantly and positively influenced by the use of Etteplan’s AM cost estimation calculator and AM process simulation tools.  Close cooperation with SLM Solutions brought additional cost savings through process parameter optimization.

Fully-nested build platform of 120 components just coming out of the printer – designed by Etteplan to achieve more than a 40% reduction in manufacturing costs compared to the traditionally manufactured component.  (Printing and photo by 3DStep)

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Tero Hämeenaho

Department Manager, AMO

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