Enhancing Aesthetic & Functional Properties of 3D Prints

Post-Processing in Industry

A distinctive feature of a number of production technologies which excel is the combination of a proven manufacturing technique with a post-processing method which is well thought-out. This enables the delivery of a product with the maximum possible impact, as post-processing creates a striking aesthetic effect and is able to improve mechanical and geometric properties.

The iconic anodizing of Maglite or the straightforward impact of gold-plating on jewelry are pertinent examples of this striking effect in end-use production. Using a release agent to pre-treat wood which is used for concrete formworks is an application which is typically used. This delivers quality and efficiency benefits during the production of another end-use item. In both cases, clear value is contributed by post-processing.

While awe-inspiring objects are delivered straight off the print bed by BigRep’s printers, their eBooks already show industry leaders post-processing their prints to terrific effect. The full-sized bath prototypes made by Villeroy & Boch are beautifully finished by filling followed by spray-painting.

The performance of Teignbridge’s cast propeller patterns are optimized with the addition of a coat of mold-release paint. The matt enamel paint finish of the Villa Ancora architectural model efficiently conveys its streamlined form. Insights into methods which it is possible to combine with BigRep’s large-format FFF technology are provided in this eBook, with a view to pushing boundaries and delivering superior products more efficiently.

Furniture and Household: Villeroy & Boch, Prototyping

Furniture and Household: Villeroy & Boch, Prototyping

Marine Industry: Teignbridge Propellers Int. Ltd, Propeller Pattern

Marine Industry: Teignbridge Propellers Int. Ltd, Propeller Pattern

Architecture: Villa Ancora, Modelling

Architecture: Villa Ancora, Modelling

Offering Post-Processing Consulting in order to help bring customers’ prints up a gear, NOWLAB is the Innovation Consultancy of BigRep. NOWLAB provides advice on the appropriate processing technologies for industry-specific surface requirements and use-cases.

Post-Processing Basics

Providing enhanced aesthetic impacts and mechanical performance, post-processing improves the surface properties of prints in several ways. The improvement of these essential surface characteristics allows post-processing to significantly extend the number of applications and use-cases in every industry.

Functional Properties Aesthetic Impact
  • Geometric Precision
  • Structural Properties
  • Mechanical Performance
  • Material Strength
  • Thermal/Electrical Conductivity
  • Surface Characteristics
  • Smoothness
  • Tactile Properties
  • Light Diffusion
  • Visual Impact
  • Color
  • Luster
  • Opacity/ Transparency
  • Patterning

3 Types of Post-Processing Techniques can be Applied to FFF Prints

Surface Texture

Staircase Effect

The overall print surface roughness which is indicated via the layer-by-layer FFF print process is described by the staircase effect.

Macro View of FFF-prints at 0.05, 0.2, 0.3 mm layer heights. The layer height impacts the extent of the staircasing effect.

Macro View of FFF-prints at 0.05, 0.2, 0.3 mm layer heights. The layer height impacts the extent of the staircasing effect.

RA-Value: The Roughness Average

A technique for the quantification of the surface roughness of certain objects is provided by the notion of a Roughness Average. Roughness Average (Ra) measurements thus constitute one objective indicator which can be used to compare different post-processing techniques.

The average vertical distance between the deepest notch and the highest material accumulation is described by the Ra-value.

Surface Visualization

Surface Visualization

1- Material Removal

In order to improve FFF object surfaces, a variety of techniques for removing material can be used. It is possible to use material removal as preparation for a subsequent additive process, or as a final finish. The majority of removal methods are mechanical, although some are chemical.

Unprocessed Pro HT Clearly visible staircase effect.

Unprocessed Pro HT
Clearly visible staircase effect.

Machining Very smooth finish achieved.

Machining
Very smooth finish achieved.

High-Resolution Tumbling Very smooth surface finish achieved. Adequate for highly smooth polished surfaces.

High-Resolution Tumbling
Very smooth surface finish achieved.
Adequate for highly smooth polished surfaces.

2- Material Addition

For the purposes of achieving vastly different outcomes, it is possible to fill, coat, foil, and plate FFF prints. Additive application methods vary from electro-chemical techniques to dipping, spraying, and filling.

Powder Coating Smooth surface finish. Achievable through powder coat spray and heat treatment.

Powder Coating
Smooth surface finish.
Achievable through powder coat spray and heat treatment.

Spray Coating Extremely smooth finish achieved through elastomeric spray coating.

Spray Coating
Extremely smooth finish achieved through elastomeric spray coating.

Copper Plating Very smooth and material strength improving surface through copper plating.

Copper Plating
Very smooth and material strength improving surface through copper plating.

3- Material Property Change

Instead of removing or adding material, these methods require heat to be applied or the print to be exposed to catalyzing substances, in liquid or gas states.

Vapor Smoothing Extremely smooth surface finish achieved through chemical melting process.

Vapor Smoothing
Extremely smooth surface finish achieved through chemical melting process.

High Resolution Tumbling

Car Wheel Rim

In order for it to behave and appear more similar to the final manufactured part, this automotive component prototype has been tumbled. As the tumbled part is smoother, it provides a superior sense of the design’s tactile and visual aesthetics, as well as delivering a form which is more accurate at performing wind-tunnel tests. This shows how engineers, designers, and decision-makers can be given valuable information with which to work during the development of products, courtesy of post-processing.

Precision-printed in full scale on a BigRep ONE in only 48 hours, the wheel rim is a complex industrial design. The tumbling process which was used on the rim was an automated technique which has been long-established for the surface smoothing of a wide range of materials and objects.

It is possible to perform tumbling in large batches and it provides a wide range of finish options. The combination of tumbling with large-scale FFF printing represents an extremely flexible and efficient method of providing complex and large smoothed objects. This is a promising method which has the potential to produce benefits for both end-uses and product development.

The Process

Likely Applications:

  • Design and Engineering Prototypes
  • Automotive, Product Design, Engineering
  • Preparing End-Use parts for Additive Post-Processing

Resin Coating

Headrest Spare Part

A BigRep ONE was used to print this replacement part for a seat headrest from a Deutsche Bahn train. This part was subsequently treated with a two-component resin coating of high quality. The tactile qualities, color consistency, and surface smoothness achieved are notable. It is possible that BigRep printers may produce spare parts for Deutsche Bahn stock in the near future.

Deutsche Bahn can save vast resources courtesy of on-demand printing. These resources would otherwise be dedicated to batch-production and warehousing if conventional methods were used. On-demand printing also allows Deutsche Bahn to achieve aesthetic quality and performance requirements.

The Process

Likely Applications:

  • Aesthetically demanding End-Use Parts
  • Mobility, Furniture, Consumer Goods
  • Showcase Prototypes

Aluminum Plating

Aerospace Fuel Tank

A BigRep ONE was used to print this fuel tank which was designed for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Subsequently, it was plated with aluminum in order to enable it to withstand elevated pressures. The fuel tank will be a high-performance aerospace end-use component which was made with the use of BigRep FFF technology, and is undergoing operating pressure testing at present.

The engineering company Polymertal is developing the innovative metal-plating process applied to the tank. As the method becomes more streamlined, it will be possible to realize an increasing number of hybrid components which combine the lightness, complexity, and rapid production of FFF prints with the technical performance of metal parts.

A number of new end-use applications are expected for hybrid components produced using BigRep technology, in sectors such as the mobility, marine, and aerospace industries.

The Process

Likely Applications:

  • Marine and Mobility
  • Performance Components
  • Aerospace and Automotive

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by BigRep.

For more information on this source, please visit BigRep.

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