Process and control today | AMT is partnering with Mitsubishi Electric to bring a 50x increase in productivity to 3D printing post-processing

Mitsubishi Electric’s automation products contribute to the development of the first fully automatic post-processing machine for 3D-printed plastic parts at Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Sheffield-based Additive Manufacturing Technologies Ltd. (AMT) has teamed up with Mitsubishi Electric to further advance their innovative chemical vapor smoothing machine PostPro 3D by developing an integrated automation solution. This is based on the compact PLC, HMI, SCADA and MELFA articulated arm robots of the MELSEC iQ-F series from Mitsubishi Electric, which is offered as a system option. The PostPro steam smoothing machine fully automates the surface finishing of 3D printed parts and increases productivity from a few parts that are completed every hour to hundreds of parts per hour.

By reducing processing times and costs, PostPro 3D benefits industrial manufacturers and end users to a great extent. “Previously, completing a 3D printed part was a completely manual process that can account for 30-70% of the total manufacturing cost. By using our automated PostPro 3D solution, manufacturers can significantly lower the final price and make 3D printing cost-effective for mass production, ”said Joseph Crabtree, CEO at AMT.

The innovative machine, which takes up only 2.5 m2 of work space, can smooth an object surface with an accuracy of 1 μm, similar to injection molding. Thermoplastic polymers such as polyamides (nylons), polylactic acid, thermoplastic polyurethanes and elastomers, polymethyl methacrylate and polyetherimides are all materials that PostPro 3D can handle.

The automated post-processing is made possible through the use of a number of predefined parameter sets and algorithms, which are applied to the BLAST process (Physicochemical Boundary Layer Automated Smoothing Technology) developed by PostPro.

The 3D printed parts created by laser or high-speed sintering, HP Multi Jet Fusion or Fused Deposition Modeling technology can be loaded into the post-processing machine manually or using an integrated six-axis Mitsubishi Electric robotic arm to further improve productivity. In PostPro 3D, several parts can be reworked at the same time, provided they are made of the same materials and require an identical surface finish.

After inserting the parts, the desired surface roughness and additional surface qualities, e.g. B. matte or glossy surfaces can be selected. The processing data is analyzed and saved in real time for continuous process and machine monitoring.

After a cycle time of typically 90 to 120 minutes, the smoothing process is complete and the parts are released and ready for use. In addition, the machine can automatically reorder consumables, ie cartridges with chemicals, if necessary, which further simplifies and accelerates the production lines.

The importance of partnering with a factory automation specialist

A smart and highly connected machine like PostPro 3D uses a number of factory automation solutions that need to interact seamlessly with one another. In fact, the aim of AMT was to develop a machine that is Industry 4.0-ready, i.e. connected to the cloud, sending status updates, being able to automatically order consumables when needed, and being suitable for preventive maintenance and remote diagnostics.

Crabtree comments: “To implement our concept, we needed an automation partner who could provide the full range of machine control systems as well as the actual robotics. This is of fundamental importance in order to really integrate our machine into the production line of the future and to benefit from a lean sales model for individual suppliers. “

Finally, certified automation products were also of vital importance for AMT, as Joseph Crabtree explained: “In order to expand and deliver our solution in the US, Europe and China, we had to build a system whose components are all accredited as per the applicable national regulations UL and CE marking standards. “

He continued, “Mitsubishi Electric was the clear choice as it offers a one-stop shop for state-of-the-art automation solutions. This way we can be sure that the various components are compatible and can share data. Overall, the company can offer us products that meet the requirements of UL, CE and Industry 4.0. “

More precisely, PostPro 3D is equipped with a Mitsubishi Electric power supply and a low-voltage switchgear, servo drives and motors, frequency converters FR-D700 and an optional six-axis robotic arm from the MELFA RV-F series. These are connected to an FX5UC PLC of the MELSEC iQ-F series, which offers high performance in a compact housing and is suitable for applications with limited space such as this.

The PLC is also connected to Mitsubishi Electric’s GOT2000 HMI operator terminal, which allows the operator to set the finishing parameters and monitor the process using Mitsubishi Electric’s advanced SCADA with 3D graphics for efficient operation and preventive maintenance. All of these features helped AMT create a fully automated and digitally connected machine.

Gary Hatfield, Mitsubishi Electric’s Key Account Manager, Yorkshire Region, said: “It was very exciting to work with AMT on such an innovative product. The process of realizing AMT’s vision of a fully automated process that can be integrated into the digital workflow of a production line will currently interest many people. “

Joseph Crabtree concluded, “We believe that PostPro 3D will have a significant impact on a range of manufacturing applications from shoes and medical parts to aerospace and automotive. This would not have been possible without the right automation specialist. We 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 can safely offer the machine to a global market. “

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