Introduction: Among any industry, the development and implementation of standards are of paramount importance to ensure the proper operation of certain components, systems or services. Today, additive manufacturing (AM) is gaining applications in many fields, so the performance of subsequent 3D printed parts this also needs to be controlled, including performance and biocompatibility. To meet these stringent requirements, post-processing of the original part produced by additive manufacturing is critical. The post-processing step of additive manufacturing eliminates defects and helps the user to obtain the desired performance.
Different post-processing solutions have emerged on the market to help 3D printed parts meet the certifications for different applications, allowing them to compete directly with traditional processes such as injection molding.
Whether it's making prosthetics, nasal swabs, dental braces or medical helmets, the healthcare industry has extremely stringent requirements for the quality, safety and performance of its parts. Within the additive manufacturing market, there are a number of post-processing methods that provide the smooth finishes necessary for applications in these areas. However, the real challenge lies in the treatment of the internal channels of the part. In fact, these channels remain exposed and bacteria can latch onto them and contaminate the production process. To solve this problem, AMT is offering an automated post-treatment system called "Vapor Smoothing" that provides a smooth and sealed surface finish for 3D printed parts. Thanks to this post-processing method, parts can pass different tests and prove their compliance with standards and regulations for industrial applications in multiple fields.
How Steam Smoothing Post-treatment Works
To understand how vapor smoothing post-processing enables 3D printed parts to meet standards in the most demanding industries such as medical, dental and automotive, it is first necessary to understand how the technology works.The vapor smoothing method developed by AMT involves suspending batches of parts in a sealed processing chamber where a proprietary solvent mixture is introduced in a closed-loop system in the form of vapor. The steam comes into contact with the parts, enveloping them and eliminating irregularities in their surfaces. By eliminating crack initiation sites, the steam smoothing process completely covers the surface of the part, thereby increasing elongation at break without loss of ultimate tensile strength. The vapor smoothing process can be used in additive manufacturing technologies such as selective laser sintering (SLS), multi-jet fusion (MJF), selective absorption fusion (SAF) and fused deposition modeling (FDM) to help achieve the desired surface roughness in the parts created. In terms of materials, AMT's solutions are compatible with a wide range of polymers, including polyamides (PA12, PA11 and PA6), flexible materials such as TPU, and more standard materials such as ABS.
In addition to being highly controllable and repeatable, AMT's vapor smoothing system allows complex geometries to be smoothed without compromising mechanical properties. In addition, it has many benefits that allow users to unlock additional applications for 3D printed parts for advanced industries. For example, it allows sealing surfaces to prevent the entry of liquids and gases. This prevents bacteria buildup, which increases the sterilization of the part. This surface smoothing has other benefits, notably, it is important for parts that come in contact with skin, such as prosthetics, nasal swabs, dental applications, etc. In addition to the benefits of smoothing, this technology also improves the mechanical properties of the parts, making them more durable, practical and resistant to wear and tear, thus extending their service life. This simultaneously improves the overall aesthetics of the part without affecting the final weight or dimensional changes.
Standards and Qualification Testing for 3D Printed Parts
3D printed parts for applications in industry need to be evaluated to ensure that these components are compatible and safe for their given application. In this case, to prove the success of this post-processing method, researchers tested the compatibility of 3D printed parts completed using AMT vapor smoothing technology. In the medical and dental fields, these components successfully passed various certifications related to skin contact, cytotoxicity and antimicrobial testing. These performance tests are demanding and complex, requiring multiple levels of certification to ensure patient safety. In addition, industries such as automotive and food have also tested parts that have undergone vapor smoothing treatments. In particular, the automotive industry has successfully passed flammability tests on parts made of PA12 material. Importantly, AMT's reprocessing systems meet all safety and industrial hygiene standards for demanding applications ranging from medical and dental to consumer and food. In addition, they do not use corrosive and explosive acid mixtures in the machine, thus minimizing any other potential hazards.
The use of standard highly controlled parts remains the focus of many industries that still deny the potential of 3D printing. Now, AMT's vapor smoothing technology makes it possible for 3D printed parts to be used in the most demanding industries by meeting the certifications of the most demanding industries.