Solukon Maschinenbau GmbH, Augsburg, Germany, and Siemens AG, Munich, Germany, recently received the TCT Post-Processing Award 2019 at the annual TCT Awards on September 25, in Birmingham, UK. In 2018, the companies collaborated to launch the advanced SFM-AT800S depowdering system for metal Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) Additive Manufacturing.
The SFM-AT800-S uses an intelligent algorithm developed by Siemens to rotate a metal additively manufactured part for depowdering in a sequence calculated from the CAD geometry, precisely draining the residual powder from intricate cavities such as conformal cooling channels. This reduces manual labour time, waste powder and scrap parts due to powder residue issues.
“So far, our systems have used a programmable sequence of movement and vibration of the build plate containing the AM parts, allowing the component to be positioned in any desired spatial position,” stated Andreas Hartmann, co-founder and Technical Director, Solukon, on the system’s development. “But for complex parts with multiple conformal channels, such as in heat exchangers, this sometimes may not be sufficient enough, since only a precisely defined sequence with multiple rotation in the flow direction of the powder leads to complete removal of the residual powder,”
Solukon stated that the aim of the collaboration was to create a system that would make it possible to ensure the complete removal and safe recovery of residual powder from highly complex internal structures and channels in one automated process. Christoph Kiener, Principal Key Expert on Functional Design for Manufacturing at Siemens’ Corporate Technology, explained that a vibration-excited powder behaves almost identically to a fluid, and that this can be used to simulate the particle movement of the powder as part of a flow simulation.
“In principle, we proceeded in the same way one would use algorithms and mathematical models for escape route planning in buildings,” he explained. “We use the component as a volume model and let our algorithms search for openings in it. We then identify channels and describe the path into the model. Repeated iterations calculate the flow of the powder and record the corresponding path. This path is translated into a motion code and thus forms the basis for motion control of the system.”
“Modifying our SFM-AT800 system, we equipped it with a swivel system with endlessly rotating axes and a Siemens control,” added Hartmann. “Using the simulated movement code, the system can follow an optimally calculated path and thus completely empty the component of all residual powder, even in the most inaccessible internal channels deep inside the part.”
“Our aim is to give the industry highly automated tools to close the gap between manufacturing and post processing,” he continued. “The SFM-AT800-S with intelligent algorithm helps to save labour time, ensures the highest demands of health and safety are met and increases significantly the quality process. On the other hand, it reclaims the residual powder contamination free and provides it for further processing.
We think this is an important step for a sustainable industrialisation of AM.”