New software from the University of Michigan may make 3D printers more adept at creating intricate metal and plastic parts. It reduces heat buildup in laser powderbed fusion printers.
SmartScan is a software that shows a 41% increase in heat distribution and 47% decrease in deformations. This was demonstrated in a recent study.
It is also likely to speed up the manufacturing process in two important ways. First, it reduces the need for printers and cooling equipment to work faster. Second, it significantly reduces heat-caused defects after printing.
Laser powder bed fusion, a type of 3D printing, is used in the aerospace, automotive, and biomedical industries to produce parts that are too complex to be made with traditional manufacturing. Lasers are used to fuse layers of plastic or powdered metal together. The laser’s heat can cause deformation in delicate parts printed.
Chinedum Okwudire (U-M associate professor in mechanical engineering, and the corresponding author of the paper published in Additive Manufacturing) said that parts with very thin features are more vulnerable to this problem. The heat has very limited spread so it is important to be careful how the laser is moved around. Otherwise, your part could deform in strange ways.
SmartScan addresses the problem by analyzing how heat flows in a part and mapping an optimized scan sequence that will limit heat accumulation in any area. It analyses the part’s shape and thermal properties, including convective and conductive heat transfer.
Other researchers have tried different printing patterns to reduce heat buildup. They used jumping between areas or switching between vertical and horizontal scanning directions. Okwudire claims SmartScan uses a thermal model to guide the laser more evenly.
Okwudire stated that science can be integrated into engineering to make it more efficient and work for complex parts.
The researchers used a laser to imprint a similar pattern on two plates of stainless steel in order to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the first SmartScan version. The first plate was created using SmartScan and the second plate was printed using traditional patterns. SmartScan prints were less warped than other methods and had a more uniform heat distribution.
The team believes that SmartScan can be used to create full-sized 3D parts based on the results of this experiment. The team plans to improve SmartScan by including the fusion of metal and plastic powder in their thermal modeling. They also plan on enabling active updating of a scan sequence while printing based upon real-time temperature measurements with an infrared cam.
Okwudire said that the results were very promising and that he has received a lot positive feedback. He also started to show the software to industry partners. We chose a simple model as it is simpler and more effective than the trial-and error approaches of today. We wanted to be practical and make a real difference.
The U-M College of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering supported the study. The University of Michigan filed for patent protection. It is now looking for partners to help bring the technology to market.