As the 3D printing bandwagon gathers pace, the perception that these processes are free from any production constraints remains largely unchallenged. The reality is that – if cost, time or waste matter to you – additive layer manufacturing processes DO have constraints.
This is particularly true of the methods that require support structures to be built – and then removed – to hold the part up during the build process. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is particularly affected by these issues, as the process uses a lot of energy and the forming and removal of supports adds considerable expense.
As one of our main contributions to the SAVING* project, Crucible has examined the DMLS process in detail and developed a set of design guidelines which are aimed at promoting ‘best practice’ in terms of energy efficient manufacture. Most of the guidelines are aimed at making designers aware of the basic facts regarding design with DMLS, like rule number 1 – ‘any downward facing horizontal surface will require support structures to be built and then removed, wasting time and energy’. The important point to note is that these are not limitations, provided you work with them – just as draft angles are not necessarily a limitation of injection moulding.
* The SAVING project was a research programme coordinated by Exeter University and funded by the Technology Strategy Board that examined the use of additive layer manufacturing processes as a means of reducing energy consumption.