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  • Writer's pictureSebastian Bluemer

Prototyping - Laser Powder Bed Fusion

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

Additive Manufacturing was highly likely used for Prototyping in the past. Fast and with minimal effort, a component was made available to the customer. At the same time, manufacturing should require as less post-processing as possible in order to meet short delivery times.

"The customer is already nervous about his ordered components, is there perhaps an update available? Can you tell us anything about the components and how the quality is in general?

Time pressure is probably one of the most common problems in Prototyping. The customer needs the part as soon as possible, whether to use them in a new product line, as a basis for a simulation, to present an idea to his management, or as a motivation for an upcoming series.

Engineering time should be kept to a minimum, as short lead times mean there is no time for engineering, which anyway would also increase the cost per part. First time right print jobs gets a whole new meaning.

In reality, however, time must be invested to produce good quality, especially for prototypes. In order to produce an OK part as quickly as possible, standards are quickly created in process preparation. The standards are created in process preparation to produce a part as quickly as possible without it having been evaluated by process engineering. However, it takes time and experience to establish these standards and to develop a good manufacturing parameter that is not just product-specific.

Because parts are often not optimized for additive manufacturing, the risk of process failure also increases. Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) is already being used much more frequently than it was a decade ago. However, parts still have a high level of support structures that need to be completely removed afterwards to achieve good quality. This does not always make it easy for process preparation to optimally orient the components and nest as many components as possible on the platform.

A high degree of creativity is required for post-processing of the components. After printing, the parts are given a different finish. Functional surfaces are usually reworked so that the components can be installed. This requires a high degree of creativity, as additive parts tend to show distortions and their complexity makes it difficult to create a reference for post-processing. In most cases, post-processing is considered a "no-brainer," but this is another major area of expertise in the AM process chain.

Finally, the components are shipped to the customer. The production status of the components and the documents must be correct so that no time is lost in the downstream "simple" processes. This requires digital systems and component monitoring throughout the process chain. Sounds simple but can be time consuming as well.

In summary, I believe that prototype manufacturing is essential in the AM industry. It will continue to be requested by customers, even though many companies are looking towards volume production and prefer established processes with developed support and process parameters.

What do you think?

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