Additive manufacturing has been developing rapidly in the past few years. New progress, from the development of faster and larger printers to advances in materials science for new consumables, has continued innovation and expanded the array of applications in additive manufacturing.
Surprisingly, one aspect of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printing that has remained unchanged is the process of removing support material. FDM printed parts are composed of a model material, such as ABS thermoplastic, and a soluble support structure. The support structure, typically called SR20 or SR30, is extruded while the model is being built and works as a scaffolding to accommodate complex geometries and ensures that even intricate parts can be consistently created.
After the print has been completed, the support structure on a 3D printed part is removed by placing the part in a heated and agitated bath of sodium hydroxide (NaOH). The part is left to soak for several hours, which is dependent on the size/complexity of the part and the amount of support on it.
During this time, the support material is chemically dissolved by the sodium hydroxide while the ABS model features remain. For users who have a demand for fast throughput of printed parts, the support process creates a bottleneck in the process.
The old proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention” is certainly applicable to this situation. The invention in this case is a new process of support removal that elegantly blends the classic sodium hydroxide bath with, well, a dish washer.
Almco is the company behind the new support removal system, which takes the traditional submerged sodium approach and adds a spin cycle. The part is no longer left to float around in a tank but is now attached to a continuously rotating base while being hit by many banks of sodium hydroxide sprayers. This new support removal process boasts some pretty impressive numbers. The part you see pictured above would take around 10 hours using the bath.
Using Almco’s system, it takes 90 minutes to remove all of the supports. But wait, there is more – because the part is spinning and not soaking, it has a much quicker drying time.
We’re always looks forward to seeing how new technologies will help our FDM users enhance their overall rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing. We are excited that there are companies, such as Almco, that are developing products to enable the FDM community to make a major cut in their part processing time.