Automated surface smoothing and homogenization of 3D printed plastic and metal components

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When it started offering ready-to-install 3D printed plastic and metal components to its customers, the job shop Klaus Stöcker metal processing initially utilized manual post processing methods. Because of the rapidly growing demand and stricter requirements for process stability and consistency of the post processing operation, the company took a new approach: It purchased the automated systems S1 for de-powdering and M1 for the effective surface smoothing and homogenization from AM Solutions – 3D post processing technology. Based on the excellent results a second M1 system, representing a cost-efficient alternative to chemical smoothing, was recently commissioned at the job shop.

With around 40 employees the Klaus Stöcker metal processing founded in 1990, offers a wide range of services in the field of machining. This includes turning, milling, sinking and wire EDM, face and circular grinding, assembly and measuring with state-of-the-art machinery. The company also fabricates its own tooling, fixtures, gauges and special machinery. It serves customers in the automotive, pharmaceutical, food and machinery building industry. In 2016 Stöcker began offering 3D printed plastic and metal parts and since then has installed 16 printers. The company is producing components made from different types of plastic, including PA 6 and PA 12, but also materials re-enforced with glass, carbon and Kevlar fiber with the FDM/FFF and SLS printing methods. The stereolithographic system (SLA/PJM) is primarily used for printing optical components with different technical characteristics and in different colors. Selective laser melting (SLM) and atomic diffusion additive manufacturing (ADAM) are used to make metal components from aluminum alloys, different types of stainless steel and various tool steels.

Automated post processing – an important part of the manufacturing process
Stöcker quickly realized that as job shop it can only be successful, if it offers services within the entire process chain, not just the printing operation. The manager of additive manufacturing at Stöcker, Arnd Meller, explains: „On the one hand, this includes a comprehensive consultation with our customers to determine if a component can be made with additive manufacturing and, if yes, which design changes are required, and which printing technology and material is most suitable. On the other hand, post processing is an important operation that allows us supplying ready-to-install components to our customers.” In the beginning the post processing operation took place manually with tools that were available internally. For example, laser-sintered plastic parts were cleaned in a manual blast cabinet. However, the rapidly growing demand and stricter requirements for process stability and consistency of the post processing operation could no longer be handled with conventional methods. Therefore, the company started looking for automated solutions. Important considerations were the product quality, the operational safety, the total cost of ownership (TCO) and ease of operation. Arnd Meller continues: „In the end it was the excellent expert advice and comprehensive experience in surface treatment that made us decide to purchase our post processing equipment from AM Solutions – 3D post processing technology. In addition, I was really impressed by the manufacturing depth of AM Solutions/Rösler at their site in Untermerzbach“. Initially, cleaning of the components with the S1 system was the only subject of the discussions. For the surface refinement of its 3D printed components the company was pursuing different solutions, for example, chemical smoothing.

Mass finishing – a cost-efficient alternative to chemical smoothing
However, during a visit at the Customer Experience Center of AM Solutions – 3D post processing technology Arnd Meller was really surprised to learn that the M1 Basic produces excellent results within relatively short cycle times. Surface smoothing and homogenization of plastic components, including lower surface roughness readings, are demanded by many customers. With the M1 Basic AM Solutions can offer a system that fulfills these demands quickly with absolutely repeatable results and with a high degree of process stability. Arnd Meller concludes: „For many components the mass finishing technology represents an excellent alternative to chemical smoothing. The smoothing process is significantly more cost-effective providing us with a considerable competitive advantage. No doubt, the expert knowledge of AM Solutions, based on Rösler’s comprehensive expertise in mass finishing technologies and the development and production of suitable media, also plays an important role.” The M1 Basic is a compact plug-and-play finishing system with integrated process controls that allows the surface grinding, smoothing and polishing of 3D printed plastic and metal components. Equipped with an integrated process water cleaning and recycling system and a 230 Volt connection, the M1 Basic can be easily integrated into practically any production environment as stand-alone unit. It allows the finishing of entire work piece batches or single components with dimensions of up 550 x 150 x 130 mm (L X W X H) and with different shapes. This innovative system can be easily adapted to all kinds of finishing tasks. Work piece specific programs can be stored in the equipment controls. The standard processing bowl can be divided into two separate chambers. This allows the simultaneous finishing of different work pieces with different finishing processes.

The use of the M1 Basic in the AM department at Stöcker proved to be so successful that the company purchased a second machine for the surface finishing of metal.