Optimizing extraction systems for mass production additive manufacturing

What’s the difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM)? Both are actually synonyms for the same fundamental process, but increasingly AM is becoming associated with a scaling up for the mass production of product.

There’s less ambiguity about how we refer to the hardware – here 3D print technology is the accepted norm for describing the equipment. However, whatever name we use, what’s clear is that this manufacturing process is accelerating for a number of important reasons.

Think back not too many years ago, and manufacturing was driven by traditional moulding and tooling in order to produce high volumes of parts. 3D printing was mainly used for prototyping or the bespoke production of high value components in advanced industries such as aerospace.

Today, innovations in equipment technology and materials science mean that more manufacturers are looking at the cost break-points for mass printing products. This isn’t due entirely to technology, it’s also the result of recent supply chain issues, with delays in parts from overseas suppliers limiting production capabilities. To overcome this issue, manufacturers are turning to AM to ensure parts security.

So, what does this mean for the enabling systems that support this additive manufacturing revolution, notably for the extractions technology that is core to productivity? It is the systems designed and produced by BOFA that help maintain both a clean working environment for operatives and keep equipment free from contamination to maintain high levels of productivity.

The first of these important attributes – the contribution to atmosphere management – helps capture the particles and/or gases emitted during the process and return clear into the workspace. These gases (VOCs) often give off a smell – which is usually the driver for extraction from an operator perspective – but BOFA systems can also help capture the particles and nanoparticles which have the potential to be harmful to human health. These are invisible to the eye but still need to be controlled.

The mix of gases and particles will vary according to the 3D print process and the materials being worked. For example, in stereolithography, the majority of fumes emitted are gas, but in the case of filament printing, both gas and particles, some of which will be ultra-fine, need to be filtered.

New functional materials also present a challenge for manufacturers. For example, in a 3D print process, PEEK (Polyetheretherketone) creates a mist that can settle on hardware and the printable object. By extracting these emissions and keeping the print chamber clean, the quality of the finished product is assured.

Chamber temperature control is an important part of AM processes as the temperature within 3D printers needs to be maintained within a narrow band to ensure that feed material reaches the critical point where it can be layered and bonded. It is also essential that the cooling process is carefully controlled to avoid the risk of brittleness in the finished product.

As a result, BOFA has developed the 3D PrintPRO HT unit to achieve both the temperature control and filtration performance needed, particularly to optimize the value of new generation functional materials that are constantly emerging, and which need higher temperatures to deliver their functional benefits.

The new technology uses advanced electronics components, thermal insulation and innovative air management to deliver high levels of filtration performance. It also runs a purge cycle at the end of the process that helps to gradually cool the chamber while passing the air through a carbon filter to help remove any VOCs that continue to be released.

BOFA will be showcasing its range of 3D printing and AM filtration and atmosphere management systems at Rapid + TCT 2023 in Chicago in May.

For more information about any of our products, please contact our knowledgeable team.