Michigan University (U-M) scientists have developed a new software called ‘SmartScan‘ to help 3D printers produce intricate metal and plastic parts a lot faster than before.
According to the scientists, the SmartScan software reduces harmful heat buildup in laser powder bed fusion printers and as so far demonstrated 41% improvement in heat distribution, and 47% reduction in deformations.
Overall, it could help speed up the manufacturing process as it reduces the need for printers to slow down to help with cooling, and significantly reduces heat-caused defects that have to be corrected after printing.
The aerospace, automotive and biomedical industries have of late been turning to a new form of 3D printing called Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) which manufacture parts too intricate for conventional manufacturing.
It uses a laser to fuse layers of powdered metal or plastic together. But the laser’s heat can also build up in the delicate parts being printed, causing deformation and other defects.
This gets even more challenging for parts with really thin features, explains the paper’s co-author and U-M associate professor Chinedum Okwudire:
“The heat doesn’t have a lot of room to spread, so you need to be smart about how you move the laser around, otherwise your part will deform in really weird ways.”
What SmartScan does is examine how the heat flows within a given part and then maps out an optimized scan sequence to limit heat accumulation in any given area.
As pointed out by Okwudire, it happens to be the first solution that uses a thermal model to optimally guide the laser to distribute heat more evenly.
To assert the effectiveness of their SmartScan prototype, the scientists used a laser to imprint an identical pattern on two stainless steel plates.
While SmartScan was used for the first plate, traditional printing patterns were utilized for the second plate.
Results show that prints made with SmartScan were consistently less warped and showed more uniform heat distribution during the marking process than the other methods.
Going forward, Okwudire and his team plan to further improve the software by factoring the fusing of metal or plastic powder into their thermal modeling.
They are also working on enabling active updating of a scan sequence during printing based on real-time observed temperature measurements using an infrared camera.
Image and content: University of Michigan