As 3D printing is maturing as an industry and manufacturing technology, there is a growing need for the postprocessing of 3D printed parts, especially end-use parts. One good example of this development is the German company DyeMansion. Since its inception a few years back, the company has developed several technologies for depowdering, dyeing and surface treatment of larger batches of 3D printed parts.
We met up with DyeMansion’s COO Kai Witter at this year’s big 3D printing trade show, Formnext, to discuss recent developments in 3D printing and postprocessing. But first, let’s take a look at the company solutions portfolio.
The DyeMansion postprocessing portfolio
The first solution to come out of DyeMansion’s shop was the Powershot C. It’s an automatic cleaning station for SLS or MJF printed parts. Two air blasting nozzles and a rotating basket housing the parts can clean a batch in around ten minutes. According to the company, one Powershot C can replace up to four manual cleaning stations.
Next is the surface treatment solution Powershot S. With almost the same setup as the Powershot C, this equipment resembles tumbling, but it is not abrasive. By shooting beads accelerated with compressed air, the Powershot S equalizes the peaks and lows on the surface, giving parts a more homogenous surface. It also closes any pores in the part. The surface treatment is an important preparation for when you want to dye parts.
Everyone that has ever used SLS or MJF knows that they get a matte surface finish once the part is cleaned. The latest release from DyeMansion, the Powerfuse S, wants to change that. Parts are added to a vacuum sealed chamber which is flooded by an eco solvent circulated in a closed loop. The end result are parts sealed and washable with injection moulding-like surfaces. The process works for all common plastics, even for TPU, where you can rarely use mechanical techniques.
Lastly, there’s the DyeMansion DM60, a colouring solution for SLS and MJF printed parts. In addition to over 170 RAL and standardized colours, DyeMansion also has the ability to create individual tones for customers, such as corporate colours. All colours are ISO certified, which means dyed parts can be used for applications such as eyewear, medical orthoses or automotive interiors. The DM60 works in much the same way as the cleaning station, the Powershot C. Parts are placed in a metal container together with a dye cartridge. This is then inserted in a tumbler. A dyeing program typically takes a few hours and parts are ready for delivery straight out of the machine.
Plastic 3D printing becomes manufacturing ready
There is ample evidence of the industrialization of 3D printing, with more and more well-known brands joining the ranks. GKN, a leading industrial Tier 1 supplier to the aerospace and automotive industry, recently acquired Forecast 3D, one of the largest and most advanced 3D printing service bureaus in North America. Some time later, BASF, the well-known chemistry giant and provider of plastics materials, acquired Sculpteo, an EU and US based service bureau. Both acquisitions are proof that plastic 3D printing will be pushed and developed towards manufacturing readiness or serial manufacturing of high value industrial and consumer end use products. Thus, plastics AM is on its way to becoming industrialized.
“But leveraging the full potential of 3D printing by industrialization is only possible when considering and setting up complete manufacturing process chains”, says Kai Witter, COO at DyeMansion. “This means industrial postprocessing workflows, scalable, reproducible and traceable is a must-have in order to accomplish the set goals.”
Bottlenecks in 3D printing postprocessing
The main postprocessing bottlenecks in 3D printing vary a lot between industries. For DyeMansion, the initial focus was to create dyes that were skin safe, which can be used in a number of verticals, from healthcare to food processing.
“Skin safe dyes that allow the use of parts with skin contact, is a very underestimated topic today. Just think of eyewear and orthoses. We provide these skin irritation certificates since day one as standard.”
“Now, one of our priorities is to develop FDA approved dyes in order to allow applications in the field of food and beverage. All this in combination with options in surface quality such as our well-known matt-glossy PolyShot finish or the new, injection molding like VaporFuse finish will open the doors to many new applications.”
From 3D printed prosthetics to automotive parts
DyeMansion’s solutions create value in many different ways, depending on the applications and the environment they are used in. The customer base consists of 3D printing service bureaus, to global contract manufacturers and medical or automotive brands.
“Imagine popular low volume, customized applications, such orthoses, prosthetics and customized eyewear. These parts create high value by being unique and providing perfect fit for the user, so they require a perfect visual appearance as well.”
“Other users, such as the automotive industry or contract manufacturers, further require contact-free dyeing solutions. They also demand scalable workflows for increasing volumes, with reproducible processes and process traceability to comply with manufacturing quality standards. Especially the industrial requirements, next to surface quality which is a prerequisite, are necessary to increase volumes and at the same time reduce the cost per part.”
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