Kirsten Van Praet July 20, 2018

We already shared tips and tricks with you on how to orient your metal parts and which support type suits which geometry. Still, it will take a large part of your time to generate and edit the proper support structure. Build crashes don’t only delay delivery time, they also have a great financial impact.

As the metal AM industry grows and 3D printed components become increasingly complex, so does the need to integrate automated processes. It takes a lot of time to create support structures that anchor the part sufficiently and prevent warpage, but which are at the same time easy to remove. Especially parts with a complex geometry need to be prepared very thoroughly as each surface that lacks sufficient support may cause defects in the part or even build crashes.

What if there was an automated solution that just placed the right type of support exactly where it’s needed, speeding up data preparation and support removal, reducing the risk of build crashing and even saving the powder usually entrapped in the supports? Well, we experienced the same needs at our 3D print factory and decided to tackle the problem with the very first software in the world that automates support generation for Metal 3D Printing: Materialise e-Stage for Metal.

Vacuum gripper with Materialise e-Stage for Metal support structure
Vacuum gripper with Materialise e-Stage for Metal support structure

Reducing data preparation time by 90%

We were happy to hear the first reactions from our metal competence center in Germany: “The amount of time you save in data preparation is amazing. It basically comes down to orienting a part and running Materialise e-Stage, which usually takes about a minute.” Contract manufacturer ProtoLabs seems to agree: "As evidenced by the work we’re seeing, e-Stage means that we never take in a part that might stump our designers on how best to design the supports. Since e-Stage performs that task for us, the designers can focus their time and energy, and expertise, in other areas. In the end, support design now typically takes minutes instead of hours."

“e-Stage makes it simpler for us to train new associates on support design. It’s very intuitive and user-friendly, removing any guesswork. Once we verify the part orientation for the build, the software automatically generates all of the supports needed throughout the part. It’s all done at once based on the overhang orientations. In the end we experience very few build errors related to supports.”

- ProtoLabs

Reducing build crashes

By eliminating human errors, you also reduce the amount of build crashes. As David Bentley, Production Manager at Proto Labs puts it: “We strive to print correctly on the first attempt, and for the most part we succeed. We have very low rebuild rates, and much of that success comes from the ability of e-Stage to remove human error from the preparation process.”

Guitar pick support conventionally (left) vs with Materialise e-Stage support
Guitar pick support conventionally (left) vs with Materialise e-Stage support

Speeding up support removal by 50%

Support-removal and finishing time drops because the supports, while strong, are easily crushable and allow our associates to use simple tools to remove them,” Bentley adds. “Typically they only need pliers or snips to remove the supports, and thus leave behind minimal burrs, minimizing finishing requirements.

Saving powder

From our experience,” he says, “powder recovery represents a huge savings for us when using e-Stage for Metal to design our supports. The scaffold-like supports developed by e-Stage contain a great deal of perforations that allow for easy powder escape and prevent entrapment between the part, the build plate and the supports. Should powder become trapped, cutting the part off of the build plate exposes the trapped powder and renders it unusable. With e-Stage we avoid that situation and minimize waste.”

Download this paper for more tips and tricks about Metal AM.   Download White Paper