I believe that anyone who has worked with a consumer-level 3D printer would tell you that 3D printing is not easy. Having worked with a variety of desktop 3D printers ranging in price and quality, including building a couple of my own kits, I would definitely agree. 3D printing as it currently exists for at-home users and hobbyists has a learning curve, and despite many companies claiming to offer plug-and-play solutions, can be very challenging if not frustrating at times.
If you have a production level 3D printer like a Stratasys Fortus System, there is a possibility that you have worked with soluble support materials. It has been a phenomenal addition to 3D printing technology, allowing for more freedom when designing hollow points and complex geometries. In addition to being used to assist in the creation of solid models, soluble support materials have also been used to create new production structures all on their own, via the application of sacrificial tooling.
What is it?
For those of you that may be unaware, sacrificial tooling is an application that consists of printing out a structure solely in a soluble material, which is then used to make composite structures. The process works by printing your structure, wrapping it in a type of resin or fiber, then washing away the original structure, leaving your hollow part intact. It is a crucial application for industries like high end automotive, for both the quality of the end part, and the ability to reach geometries not previously possible with more traditional methods.
In the past few weeks, Stratasys has unveiled another incredible breakthrough in its other signature 3D Printing Technology, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). The new developments are the Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator and the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator. Partnering with companies like Boeing, Ford, and Siemens, the advanced technologies are geared towards the Automotive and Aerospace Industries, but offer new manufacturing potential across all fields.
Constructing 3D models with FDM technology has different challenges. One challenge that faces designers are Start/Stop lines, or seam lines. Insight, the STL setup software that comes with Fortus 250mc and larger units, can edit these seam lines using a feature called Seam Control. This feature allows you to change and control the location of seam lines. Note: Catalyst software, used on FDM desktop units, cannot edit seam lines.
Below is an example of a simple boss extrusion, with a seam line running down both the boss and the base of the printed part. Traditionally, we remove the seam line with a metal file and/or sand paper. For one, or two, it is fun to dig up the Ye Old file and whisk that line away. But what if you had to build two-thousand of these parts? Fun suddenly escapes us. Not long ago, I faced a similar problem with the seam line interfering with a mating component, causing the two components to bind.
There's a new and exciting additive manufacturing application that's become popular in the automotive and aerospace industries, using FDM soluble support material to create complex soluble cores. This method of creating sacrificial cores to be wrapped in composite layers has allowed companies to create more complex shapes.