What is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, generative manufacturing or rapid prototyping, is an all-encompassing term for any manufacturing process in which material is deposited layer by layer to produce three-dimensional objects (workpieces).
Additive Manufacturing, 3D printing, can be used for more than just prototyping and manufacturing but also in the industry, for model making and research to produce models, patterns, tools and, end products as well as for personal use cases. Further applications are construction, art and medicine.
Automation of powder handling
Given the high growth rates and increasing opportunities in the Additive Manufacturing industry, powder handling automation is key to establishing the technology as a standard production process. While it is setting new standards in the realisation of products, many process steps are still manual. This includes in particular the loading of the production equipment with the appropriate plastic or metal powder. Further, the use of vacuum conveying technologies can help protect people, products and the environment.
Operators usually feed the printers, the sieves or hoppers manually. Therefore, the process relies heavily on manual labor and exposes the employee to hazardous metal dust and heavy lifting. In addition, it is not easy to ensure that all the metal powder is picked up from the drum/vat. The resulting powder loss leads to expensive process waste. Automating the process enables higher productivity, more safety for the employees and an ergonomic working environment.
At Piab, we divide this process into 3 types of Metal Additive Manufacturing:
Filling the 3D printer with metal powder
In this step, Piab vacuum conveyors pick up the new or recovered metal powder directly from a sieve/metal drum or hopper and feed the printer. The removal can also be done directly from the overflow container.
Filling a sieve or hopper with metal powder
Piab vacuum conveyors can feed the sieve or hopper directly from the original manufacturer's drum/vat when pre-sieving is required or recover metal powder from the 3D printer's overflow vessel. Conveyors can be integrated into portable sieving solutions due to their ease of assembly and light weight, allowing the same conveying and sieving solution already used for printers.
Recovering metal powder from the printer
Metal powders are both expensive and hazardous, so proper recovery from the printer is critical. Piab's piFLOW® vacuum conveyors can transport metal powder from the printer to the original manufacturer's sieve or drum/container via a closed system to increase productivity and ensure the workers’ safety. It is possible to recover metal powder from the overflow hopper and build the plate directly from the printer or by using a Piab feed tube.
Ideal vacuum conveyors for Additive Manufacturing
With our extensive experience in material handling, Piab's vacuum conveyors have long been an efficient solution for the Additive Manufacturing process. Nevertheless, the evolution of our product range allows for a higher level of customization. Piab has developed three different product configurations depending on the product and conveying requirements specifically for AM manufacturers, OEMs, powder producers and suppliers. Piab's premium conveyors are equipped with a stainless steel (ASTM 316L) housing and feature Piab's patented and highly efficient COAX® vacuum technology. They are ATEX dust and gas certified and have built-in automatic filter cleaning. Piab has conducted in-house tests on various metals and alloys, which have shown that our vacuum conveyors can handle powders with a bulk density of 8 kg/liter [500 lbs/ft3] with an impressive throughput.
Working with a variety of Additive Manufacturing technologies such as Powder Bed Fusion, including Binder Jetting and Laser Sintering, Piab offers the greatest flexibility in integrating automated vacuum conveying solutions into any powder-based manufacturing process.
We are the bridge for you to safely industrialize your AM operations!
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Piab your solid and reliable partner
In addition to our vacuum and lifting automation, vacuum conveying is a major division within Piab that focuses exclusively on the transport and movement of powders and bulk materials, handling sensitive powders and granules for the Pharmaceutical, Food and Chemical industries, and increasingly for the Additive Manufacturing process.
With an application and customization center in the US, Germany, Singapore and our headquarters in Sweden, we offer customized support and testing for your specific material to help you configure the most optimal solution for your process. In addition, our offices in France, Poland, Spain, the UK, Brazil and China offer testing facilities for a wide range of Piab’s vacuum conveying solutions. They are ready to help you with their extensive experience and know-how. We will find a way for the best possible solution at any scale.
Share your powder management challenge with us to see what we are capable of!
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Sieve or hopper filling of metal powder
Reclaim metal powder from printer
Read more about Piab’s offer for Metal Additive Manufacturing: Download the piFLOW® handout!