While 3D printing can be very convenient, it has definite kinks as a system. Take, for example, post-processing. The hype would have you believe that everything is as easy as entering a file and getting a complete object. However, many times the print requires its own set of finishing touches. To solve this very issue, a consortium of designers developed the FlexiFinish cell for metal prints.
Designers from a plethora of industries have come together to solve the issue. Ranging from robotics to inspection to engineering, the researchers got to work, with funding from Innovate UK. MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre) unveiled the device, bringing together all the various companies. CNC machining experts TTL led the research, developing it as a way of bringing 3D printing into series production mode.
The FlexiFinish is more of a cell that companies can add onto their processes. So far, they’ve shown its operations with EBAM devices but it can probably be attached to far more. The process combines a ton of different post-processing methods, reducing cost and improving repeatability in printed parts. The FlexiFinish cell uses a robotic arm and a scanner to examine what the surface of the part needs and then picks an appropriate method, such as laser polishing or abrasive tools. Once the process is done, it scans again and decides whether the part is satisfactory or not.
The process benefits from a lot design elements from different companies. Sandwell UK, for example, provided the laser polishing systems. Similarly, it utilises the FlexiFinish post-processing database, referencing it for the correct procedures. This also allows it to analyse geometries and surfaces in a way unlike any other machine.
Primarily, the cell is most useful in aerospace or medical applications, requiring a factory style workflow. As soon as the printer completes its duties, the FlexiFinish steps in and picks up the part for examining. The demonstration showed off many promising results. For one, the end surface was extremely polished, securing even the lighter engravings. The mix of in-line inspection led to surface roughness up to 99.7% and abrasive finishing at speeds of 40mm square per second (20mm square for laser polishing).
This device is particularly helpful considering how inspection and finishing are still areas of improvement among 3D printing as a whole. This is also a step towards improving the repeatability of results, which many companies have been exploring as of late. While many at the MTC had light reservations about the full range it presents, the FlexiFinish is still an inspired device. Especially, in a market where industrial post-processing tech is growing, there is a definite place for it.
Featured images courtesy of MTC.