Siemens and Solukon develop de-powdering solution for complex additively manufactured parts

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Solukon, a developer of post-processing solutions for additive manufacturing, has joined forces with Siemens to develop a highly efficient and automated system for the de-powdering of complex laser melted metal parts.

The technology won the team the TCT Award for Post-Processing at the TCT Show in Birmingham, UK, last month.

The system combines a modified SFM-AT800-S machine from Solukon with an intelligent algorithm from Siemens. It operates by rotating an additively manufactured part through a sequence calculated using the CAD geometry, which enables any residual powder to be drained precisely from intricate cavities, such as conformal cooling channels.

A video demonstrating this process can be seen below. The solution not only saves manual labour time, but also reduces waste powder and scrap parts due to powder residue issues.

‘So far, our systems have used a programmable sequence of movement and vibration of the build plate containing the AM parts, allowing the component to be positioned in any desired spatial position,’ said Andreas Hartmann, co-founder and technical director of Solukon. ‘However, for complex parts with multiple conformal channels, such as in heat exchangers, this sometimes may not be sufficient enough, since only a precisely defined sequence with multiple rotation in the flow direction of the powder leads to complete removal of the residual powder.’

The aim of the joint effort with Siemens was to therefore create a system that would make it possible to ensure complete removal and safe recovery of residual powder from highly complex internal structures and channels in one automated process.

Facilitating flow

Christoph Kiener, principal key expert on functional design for manufacturing at Siemens Corporate Technology, remarked that a vibration-excited powder behaves almost identically to a fluid, and that this can be used to simulate the particle movement of the powder as part of a flow simulation.

‘We proceeded in the same way one would use algorithms and mathematical models for escape route planning in buildings,' he explained. 'We use the component as a volume model and let our algorithms search for openings in it. We then identify channels and describe the path into the model. Repeated iterations calculate the flow of the powder and record the corresponding path. This path is translated into a motion code and thus forms the basis for motion control of the system.’

Hartmann added: ‘Using the simulated movement code, the system can follow an optimally calculated path and thus completely empty the component of all residual powder, even in the most inaccessible internal channels deep inside the part.’

The joint project was intended to give the industry a highly automated tool that closes the gap between manufacturing and post-processing. The resultant system, dubbed ‘SFM-AT800-S with intelligent algorithm’, significantly increases the quality of the de-powdering process, and also reclaims the residual powder contamination-free, enabling it to be used for further processing.

‘We think this is an important step for a sustainable industrialisation of AM,’ Hartmann concluded.