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Unpacking and depowdering of 3D printed metal parts

25. July 2023

Cooperation between Reichenbacher and Solukon combines essential postprocessing steps and enables the first automated box unpacking.

The removal of unfused pow­der is a cen­tral step in the post­pro­cess­ing of met­al parts made using addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing. For years, sys­tems from Solukon have removed pow­der auto­mat­i­cal­ly from parts man­u­fac­tured with LPBF process­es. A project with Reichen­bach­er Hamuel GmbH is now tak­ing it a step fur­ther and automat­ing both unpack­ing from the con­tain­er and depow­der­ing in a sin­gle system.

After the LPBF process in Reichenbacher’s AMS 400, the print­ed part is in a kind of ‘pow­der cake’ of unused met­al pow­der in a con­tain­er. Unpack­ing the part, i.e., free­ing the part from the pow­der cake, gen­er­al­ly involves vac­u­um­ing and clear­ing away pow­der. Once the part is uncov­ered and removed from the con­tain­er, it is placed in a Solukon sys­tem in order to auto­mat­i­cal­ly remove any unfused met­al pow­der from the inte­ri­or of the com­plex part. Using pro­gram­ma­ble two-axis rota­tion and vibra­tion, the pow­der becomes flu­id and can flow out of the inte­ri­or chan­nels in a con­trolled man­ner. This is how the pow­der is usu­al­ly removed from com­plex laser-melt­ed met­al parts. The Reichen­bach­er — Solukon project steps in here, com­bin­ing the two process steps in an auto­mat­ed sys­tem for the first time.

The operating principle of the combined unpacking and depowdering station

It is essen­tial to the Reichen­bach­er — Solukon project that not the part alone, but rather the entire con­tain­er in which the part sits is loaded into the SFM-AT1000‑S. The Reichen­bach­er box, which has a remov­able bot­tom and sides, is secured via a zero point clamp­ing sys­tem, then rotat­ed upside-down, and the first of the loose pow­der from the pow­der cake is emp­tied auto­mat­i­cal­ly. Dis­charged pow­der is fed direct­ly into an exter­nal mate­r­i­al prepa­ra­tion station.

Then, the user removes the box frame with an exter­nal mobile lift­ing device or crane, so that the part is ful­ly acces­si­ble. The Solukon sys­tem (short swiv­el arm ver­sion) then cleans the part as usu­al using one-of-a-kind SPR-Tech­nol­o­gy® with pro­gram­ma­ble twoax­is rota­tion and adjustable vibra­tion. With the SPR-Pathfind­er® soft­ware, the motion sequence in the Solukon sys­tem can be cal­cu­lat­ed in advance eas­i­ly and auto­mat­i­cal­ly using the part’s CAD file. The SFM-AT1000‑S can accom­mo­date box­es up to 800 kg and, with the help of a high-fre­quen­cy knock­er, can loosen even stub­born pow­der clumps in the part’s inte­ri­or channels.

Preview image "Unpacking and depowdering of 3D printed metal parts"
Preview image "Unpacking and depowdering of 3D printed metal parts"

The build box (con­tain­ing the part and pow­der) is unloaded from the Reichen­bach­er print­er and loaded into the Solukon sys­tem. There, the box as a whole rotates upside-down before depow­der­ing takes place with­out the box (after removal of the box frame).

“The SFM-AT1000‑S with box unpack­ing is a project with a high degree of automa­tion. Fur­ther­more, it demon­strates how flex­i­bly our sys­tems can be used for indi­vid­ual 2 cus­tomer solu­tions. As a com­pe­tent sys­tem sup­pli­er, we sup­port Reichen­bach­er in the project unpack­ing box­es of laser-melt­ed met­al parts. This is how, togeth­er, we cre­ate a real com­pet­i­tive edge for cus­tomers,” says Andreas Hart­mann, CEO and CTO of Solukon. Togeth­er with Reichenbacher’s Addi­tive Man­u­fac­tur­ing Team, led by Dr. Alexan­der Kawal­la-Nam, this has led to an indus­try-ready automa­tion solu­tion in record time. “With Solukon, we once again have a sys­tem in our port­fo­lio that has a tru­ly unique sell­ing point and makes us stand out in the area of post­pro­cess­ing against stan­dard solu­tions on the AM mar­ket. This puts Reichen­bach­er in a posi­tion to map the entire 3D print­ing process chain”, Dr. Kawal­la-Nam adds. The com­bined sys­tem SFM-AT1000‑S with box unpack­ing has already passed the prac­ti­cal test. The sys­tem has been suc­cess­ful­ly in oper­a­tion for months at a lead­ing man­u­fac­tur­er of steel moulds for the con­crete block industry.

Preview image "Unpacking and depowdering of 3D printed metal parts"

Indus­tri­al cus­tomer already using com­bined system

Press release preview "Unpacking and depowdering of 3D printed metal parts"

Press release

Vorschaubild des Artikels "Auspacken und Feinreinigen 3D-gedruckter Metallteile"