Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, isn’t the future anymore. It’s here now. And it’s gaining ground steadily against traditional manufacturing. 3D printing is now found in tool and die production, custom implants, pilot line manufacturing, and mass production.
Additive manufacturing allows manufacturers to build complex parts quickly and cost-effectively—all while boosting part quality. This approach saves on material waste/energy, reduces the need for carrying much on-hand inventory, and simplifies and optimizes legacy part production, to name a few of its benefits.
3D printing encompasses several different manufacturing processes. These fall into two basic categories—direct deposit and bulk deposit processes. Some processes within these categories require thermal processing post-production technologies to achieve the desired physical characteristics, mechanical properties, and/or print quality a company wants.
Industrial Ovens are Key in Post-Production
Manufacturers have several options when it comes to 3D printing. They can use special materials to eliminate the need for post-production processing, but these materials are often expensive and hard to print. Tweaking print settings is another option to post-production, but this approach also has its downsides.
Thermal processing technology is a more cost-effective alternative for achieving part quality in 3D post-production. Industrial ovens play a critical role in this thermal processing effort. The right oven improves the firmness, tensile strength, heat resistance, and machinability of a 3D part, among benefits.
More importantly, it boosts part quality. Manufacturers adopting this approach can increase productivity, efficiency, and profitability, and carve out a competitive advantage for themselves in the marketplace.
Manufacturers, however, are only now becoming aware of the benefits of using industrial ovens in 3D post-production. For example, one manufacturer using fused deposition modelling (FDM) to produce 3D prints in an application to boost part quality.
FDM 3D prints have rough surface features when produced. The rough surface detracts from the print’s aesthetics. Applying post-production processes using an industrial oven helps the manufacturer improve the desired look and feel of these 3D prints by smoothing out the part’s surface.
Industrial Ovens and 3D Printing: Three Use Cases
Below are three use cases of manufacturers using industrial ovens to alter the quality and/or properties of 3D prints during post-production:
- Annealing is a little-known but viable post-production process when it comes to producing high-quality 3D prints. Annealing uses heat to modify the properties of metal and plastic 3D parts to produce different desired properties, including increased hardness, impact resistance, softening, and increased ductility.
In this use case, the manufacturer employs an industrial oven to heat 3D plastic prints to their “glass transition temperature.” The object retains its shape at this temperature but softens. Ongoing changes on the molecular level boost the print’s structure stability.
- Curing is another thermal process technology that can change the physical properties of 3D prints. Curing toughens or hardens a polymer material by the crosslinking of polymer chains.
One manufacturer leverages 3D printing to produce products comprised of a production grade-elastomer. Curing these parts in an industrial oven enables the manufacturer to produce a product with variable properties—an approach that serves as an alternative to injection and compression molding.
- Curing is also well-suited to changing 3D prints’ properties to ready a part for a second production phase. In this use case, the manufacturer uses thermal processing to crosslink the printed metal parts inside a build box at specific temperatures.
This step provides enough strength to allow part handling for de-powdering the print. The manufacturer then loads the powdered metal into the oven for thermal de-binding, which removes the residual binder material from the metal parts before sintering.
These are just three examples of the increasingly innovative ways manufacturers are using industrial ovens in 3D post-production. Savvy manufacturers will continue to find new ways of combining thermal processing with help from industrial ovens and 3D printing as time passes.
Industrial Ovens are Helping to Change Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing is changing the manufacturing landscape. It’s playing a major role in the aerospace industry, for example. Some additive manufacturing processes, however, require post-production processing. Thermal processing using industrial ovens is the go-to-choice for many companies’ 3D post-production efforts. This approach boosts 3D print quality cost-effectively, cuts production costs, speeds response time, and increases profitability.
Industrial ovens play a critical role in 3D post-production efforts for additive manufacturing. The right industrial oven delivers the uniform and repeatable thermal processing needed to ensure reliable 3D print performance. Plus, they deliver the superior temperature uniformity critical to consistent product quality. The key is finding an industrial oven to fit your 3D printing needs.
If you still have questions about purchasing an oven after reading our article, you can check out our field guide to buying an industrial oven. Or you can call one of our highly skilled customer service people to assist you at 952-649-6529. Put our knowledge to work for you.