The transition of this year’s Formnext to an all-digital platform hasn’t stopped German post-processing solutions specialist Solukon from continuing its now annual trend of debuting its latest products at the Frankfurt-based show.
However, this year marks a significant change of pace for the TCT Award-winning company as it unveils its first piece of hardware aimed specifically at the polymer additive manufacturing market.
Shown today for the first time, the SFP 770 is an entirely new solution which combines both excess powder removal and a cleaning cycle in a single system. According to Solukon, this fully automated process allows for a large 150 litre build box of polymer parts to be unpacked and finished, residue-free, within in a few minutes.
TCT spoke to Andreas Hartmann, CTO and Co-founder of Solukon to find out more.
TCT: Solukon is moving into polymers for the first time – how different is the technology from your previous metal-focused solutions?
AH: While we are concentrating on removal residual powder from highly complicated metal structures, our new polymer process involves much more post processing steps that had to be solved. The process includes an automated unpacking of the complete build box, internal transfer of unpacked parts and fine cleaning of the parts surface. And this fully programmable to adapt it to a huge range of part sizes and geometries that can appear within one print job.
TCT: Can you talk about the need for this solution and the gap you’re aiming to fill in the additive market?
AH: Again the development was launched and pushed by a long-standing customer. His long term aim is the economic powder free shop floor. The idea is that all processes run without contact to the powder. We expect this to be a mandatory prerequisite when thinking about future mass production.
TCT: In a teaser put out last month you said the SFP 770 is a key step towards an automated “highly efficient and powder-free shop floor” – how does it achieve this?
AH: The operator loads a complete printed build box directly from the printer. After cool-down, the system will unpack this due to brand new process within minutes. After unpacking, the parts are automatically forwarded to a finishing process. Here, residual powder from the part surface is removed by shot blasting and ionized air. When the machine is opened again the operator will hold finished parts in his hand. All the dirty manual processes with contact to powder are handled efficiently and automatically inside the machine. That will accelerate the post-process and keep the environment clean.
TCT: Can you talk about the type of polymer additive manufacturing technologies this is designed for? Have you worked with polymer 3D printer OEMs to develop the product?
AH: The machine is designed for SLS and MJF, especially for EOS P7 systems. We already made peripherical solutions for this machine but the innovation has solely been developed by us.
TCT: We’ve seen Solukon’s metal post-processing solutions installed with a number of industrial customers including service providers like Siemens Materials Solutions and Protolabs – in which industries/customers do you see the demand for this new polymer solution?
AH: We see the future for this the complete solutions at large service providers, but also at companies that have an eye on the issues of powder contamination. We decided to provide the unpacking unit also as a single system without the cleaning unit for customers that already run a shot-blast or similar cleaning system. The unpacking will help the operator to save most of the post-processing time and avoid manual operations in the powder cake. Unpacking of an 150 litre build box can be done under 10 minutes. We expect that this makes it interesting for most AM users.
TCT: As additive manufacturing is increasingly being explored for production manufacturing – how will this new solution help facilitate that transition for polymer products?
AH: With this automated solutions the employees will have much more time for other important tasks. If the production output is going to be increased, no additional head count needs to be added. The post-processing efforts are significantly accelerated through automation. The system allows to unpack a build box simultaneously during the cleaning process. With OPC/UA control, the machine is prepared for further automation such as automated loading.We hope to be able to offer the next step to production.
TCT: You’re unveiling the product at Formnext Connect this week – when will the SFP 770 be available on the market?
AH: The system is already running successfully at our customers site in the South of Germany. The machine will be available in the middle of 2020.
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