Additive Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) is working in collaboration with Mitsubishi Electric to increase the automation of post-processing systems. AMT, which launched its own PostPro3D platform this past September, says its technology offers up to 50x greater productivity thanks to Mitsubishi Electric’s automation technologies.
The PostPro3D integrates automation technology based on Mitsubishi Electric’s MELSEC iQ-F Series compact PLC, HMIs, SCADA and MELFA articulated arm robots. By incorporating an advanced robotic arm system into the PostPro3D process, AMT has achieved a high level of automation and (consequently) productivity. As the company specifies, the PostPro3D system can turn out hundreds of finished 3D printed parts per hour (compared to just a few using manual processing).
“Up to now, finishing a 3D-printed part has been an entirely manual process, which can account for 30-70% of the total manufacturing costs,” explained Joseph Crabtree, CEO of AMT. “By using our automated solution, PostPro3D, manufacturers can cut the end price substantially, making 3D printing cost effective for higher-volume production.”
The compact PostPro3D system (measuring 2.5m2) is itself capable of post-processing 3D printed parts derived from laser or high-speed sintering, HP Multi Jet Fusion or FDM/FFF processes. The parts can either be loaded into the machine manually or using the integrated Mitsubishi Electric six-axis robotic arm (which offers greater productivity). From there, multiple parts made from the same material can be post-processed at once (as long as they require the same finishing treatment).
The post-processing itself is based on AMT’s proprietary Boundary Layer Automated Smoothing Technology (BLAST), a physiochemical process that can achieve surface smoothness with up to 1μm in precision. Users of the PostPro3D system have the option of choosing between various finishes, including matt or glossy, as well as specific surface roughnesses.
Notably, the PostPro3D incorporates a closed loop system, which makes it safe for humans to use, keeping them away from harmful chemicals and fumes. The machine also keeps the Mitsubishi automation equipment separate from the post-processing chemicals.
Once a part or series of parts has been put into the machine, the post-processing typically takes between 90 and 120 minutes. The parts that come out of the machine are solvent free and ready for use. Furthering the automation of the system, the PostPro3D is reportedly capable of reordering consumables, such as chemical cartridges, that it is running low on.
AMT’s decision to work with Mitsubishi Electric to increase the automation of its technology was a well thought out one, as the company sought to leverage Mitsubishi’s extensive experience in automation technologies.
“To realise our concept, we needed an automation partner that could provide the whole range of machine control systems, as well as the actual robotics,” said Crabtree. “This is fundamental to truly integrate our machine into the production line of the future as well as to benefit from a lean, single vendor distribution model.”
Another important element of choosing Mitsubishi Electric as a partner was that its technologies are certified in key markets around the globe. For instance, its robotic arm automation systems possess UL and CE marking standards.
“Mitsubishi Electric was the clear choice because it offers a one stop shop for state-of-the-art automation solutions,” Crabtree added. “In this way, we can be sure that the different components are compatible and can share data. Overall, the company can offer us products that adhere to UL, CE as well as Industry 4.0 requirements.”
Looking at the system in more detail, the PostPro3D is equipped with a Mitsubishi Electric power supply, low voltage switchgear, servo drives and motors, FR-D700 frequency inverters and an optional six-axis MELFA RV-F series robotic arm. These are all connected to a MELSEC iQ-F Series FX5UC PLC, which offers the benefit of being compact enough for the PostPro3D system.
The PLC is also connected to Mitsubishi Electric’s GOT2000 HMI operator terminal which enables users to set their desired post-processing parameters and monitor the BLAST process using Mitsubishi’s advanced SCADA platform with 3D graphics.
“We believe PostPro3D will have a significant impact on a number of manufacturing applications, from footwear and medical parts to aerospace and automotive,” Crabtree concluded. “This would not have been possible without the right automation specialist. We have enjoyed working with Mitsubishi Electric to develop the world’s first fully integrated system for automated post-processing of 3D printed parts. Thanks to this partnership, we are able to confidently offer the machine to a global marketplace.”