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Cleaning 3D-printed parts

toolcraft relies on equipment made by Solukon

toolcraft has been manufacturing metal 3D-printed parts since 2011. The technology has since developed from being used for rapid prototyping into a recognised production process. The company started out with one machine but now has nine in operation. From design, simulation and printing to finishing and optical, tactile and non-destructive testing, toolcraft takes care of the complete process chain. Some of the processes are now automated, making them reliable and precise. The software solution is also becoming increasingly integrated. An important stage in the process is the need to depowder or clean the parts. After being produced in a powder bed, the completed part is covered in powder in the construction cylinder. This powder is initially removed in the unpacking station before being returned to the powder circuit so that it can be recycled. However, powder is frequently left behind during this process, especially in internal cavities and parts with complex geometries. Previously, this had to be laboriously cleaned off by hand. toolcraft recently overcame this by switching to a solution provided by Solukon. To remove the metal powder from internal cavities, the two-axis AT 800 automatically rotates the build plate and vibrates so that the powder trickles out. The movement of the axes can be programmed, with users being able to save several component positions and link them using software. What’s more, sealed glove ports allow operators to perform manual cleaning using inert gas or compressed air. In the past, toolcraft removed the powder using a process similar to sand blasting. “We weren’t able to recycle the powder,” says Uwe Schulmeister, Head of the Metal Laser Melting division. The powder released during cleaning falls directly into a funnel at the bottom of the process chamber in an unchanged state. From here, it can be discharged into containers without the risk of contamination via a double-valve system. toolcraft is able to test the quality of the powder on site in its own materials laboratory. You can read the whole report (in German) in the MM Maschinenmarkt here. (Author: Simone Käfer)