Solukon Maschinenbau GmbH, Augsburg, Germany, has launched the Solukon Digital Factory Tool, a fine-tuned sensor and interface management kit to enable its depowdering systems to fit into holistic Additive Manufacturing process chains. The company states that this launch is a crucial step towards fully integrated automation and quality assurance in AM.
Since releasing its automated depowdering system, the SFM-AT800 in 2015, Solukon has become a leader in powder removal systems. The company’s Smart Powder Recuperation (SPR®) technology is used to overcome a number of potential issues with depowdering, such as the risk of explosion, occupational health, labour costs, powder recovery, cleaning quality and process repeatability.
The Solukon Digital Factory Tool reportedly now allows easy integration of automated powder removal into an overall digital AM process and includes the following features:
- Production control
Since 2017, Solukon has equipped the SFM-AT800 with an OPC-UA interface to enable central controlling and monitoring. The Solukon Digital Factory Tool enables the operator to integrate all information into the dashboard of the machinery app. Data and parameters referring to cleaning programs, such as running time and batch number, can easily be assigned via the network. Regarding the cleaning process, the OPC-UA interface enables the operator to start, monitor and modify the cleaning program as desired. Machine state and process progress are accessible in real time.
- Maintenance management
The new sensor system monitors all sensitive machine components and processes referring to lifetime of the machine. The operator, therefore, can immediately recognise unwanted changes in consumption of inert gas, compressed air, chamber atmosphere or energy to get an overview of the performance of the individual machine components. In addition, the system informs the operator in time, when maintenance is required or when to procure wear parts.
- Integration of automation
Flagship projects like HyProCell and NextGenAm provide an outlook of how automated AM production works, where the integration of downstream processes, in particular, are expected to play an increasingly important role. The SFM-AT800 is constantly communicating with a control centre while being loaded by a robot. For this purpose, the SFM-AT800 has been equipped with a special loading door and an automatic clamping system.
- Process validation and quality management
The extended quality feature is said to be the key element of the Solukon Digital Factory Tool. Certification is a mandatory challenge for manufacturers of sensitive industries like medical or aerospace, and each step of production is supposed to be clearly reproducible. The more process data is recorded and logged, the easier the certification. The Solukon Digital Factory Tool provides a fine-tuned sensor package to record relevant conditions in the process chamber, such as residual oxygen, humidity, pressure, temperature and frequency of the vibrator, in a protocol file for quality assurance. Effective evaluation of the recorded data helps to validate the process in an overall quality certificate and simplifies process optimisation. The operator may set limits to sensible values in advance so that deviations are noticed and considered immediately and quality defects are avoided in time. Besides process data, even information referring to the cleaning program itself are recorded automatically. To create a certification document for each project, the user has the opportunity to fill out a large and individual composable input mask. The user can then collect data referring to their build job in a flexible dialogue box. This includes for example type, batch and used material. In the end, the user is provided with a final protocol as PDF, CSV or XML file to be stored centrally or printed on paper.
“The Solukon Digital Factory Tool marks a significant step towards automation in postprocessing and therefore towards integration into a holistic AM process chain,” stated Alexander Bauer, Applications Manager at Solukon. “Especially through process validation in one comprehensive protocol our customers achieve an even faster, more accurate and easier certification. The Solukon Digital Factory Tool is especially applicable to sensitive industries like Aerospace and Medical.”
Solukon will offer the Digital Factory Tool as a new option for the SFM-AT800 and the SFM-AT1000-S. Existing SFM-AT800-S systems can also be retrofitted upon request. Solukon is currently cooperating with two leading manufacturers concerning process integration. Results of these projects will be presented soon.