University of Pittsburgh Develops Depowdering Machine for Metal Printing

The University of Pittsburgh has developed a depowdering solution for metal 3D printers that could significantly reduce the cost of 3D printed metal parts. Lead by Professor Albert To, a team of undergraduates has made a gyroscope-based depowdering machine. Professor To is the leader of the AMRL, or ANSYS Additive Manufacturing Research Laboratory, at Pitt and also runs the MOST AM lab, which is a cutting edge lab that develops 3D printing simulation tools. To’s ANSYS AMRL teams decided to attempt a much more hands-on project, however, with this depowdering machine, the Pitt Depowdering Machine.

Why is depowdering important?

Post-processing accounts from anywhere from 30 to 60% of the cost of a metal 3D printed part. Far from a machine driven push-button process metal printing technologies such as Powder Bed Fusion require a high degree of manual labor. Files have to be prepared by hand, support strategies have to be thought up builds have to be nested and material has to be loaded. Once the build is done the parts have to be depowdered. This usually involves a brush and vacuum cleaner. Then parts will also have to be destressed, sawed off, tumbled and may require EDM, CNC, precipitation hardening, shot peening etc. All the while a human operator will be carrying the parts around a factory. The actual 3D printing metal process is still rather artisan even though we’re promising the world that we will make millions of car parts cost-effectively. To bridge this gulf automation will be necessary. Additive Industries is including post-processing steps in the machine others are making lines of machines aimed to reduce the cost. The cool thing about adding automated conveying, destressing, EDM wire, and other systems to an existing line is that these add ons can be used to reduce costs in existing lines and be used with machines from several vendors. All of metal 3D printing’s promises and promise will have to be fulfilled through the nuts and bolts of improving and creating industrial processes. Automated post-processing is a key element of that so Pitt’s machine is very timely to say the least.

Pitt Depowdering Machine

To tells,

“The depowdering machine employs a gyroscope design that can rotate the AM build 360 degrees in two orthogonal directions. There is a vibrator that is attached to the build and vibrates the build at a high frequency so that the powders are loosened up and come out from the build as the gyroscope is rotating through different angles. There is a funnel below the gyroscope that is used to collect all the powders coming out from the build. The machine is equipped with two sieves at the bottom of the funnel to sieve the powders to the right size for re-use.”

Such a device has the power to reduce a lot of carrying around and operator time. The speed at which one could depowder a build varies enormously but as per the team’s data they should have a huge productivity increase in terms of time over existing users.

“Typically, we put an AM build on the machine for 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the parts,” To said.

That’s not all, however: the machine may also be more efficient than existing processes.

“In one test, the machine shook out 5 more grams of powders after the technician did his best to depowder manually with the aid of a vibrator.”

A vibrator in a metal 3D printing context is a rotary or tub vibrator or a vibratory finisher which is a machine where parts are mixed in with media and then vibrated to de-clog and remove powder.

If the Pitt machine performs like this in continuous operation the savings could be significant.

To says,  “We are still evaluating whether to commercialize the machine and talking to other people about it at the moment.”

We would strongly encourage them to commercialize this machine. Any in line device that could really reduce the costs of 3D printed parts would make many more metal 3D printing applications possible.


CERN Deploys Solukon’s Depowdering Units for Titanium Alloy 3D Printed Components

Metal 3D printing generally requires a lot of work, even after the part has been printed. Not only do supports need to be removed, but excess powder needs to be cleaned off the part – and that’s easier said than done, as metal 3D printing powder is hazardous to handle, for one thing, and for another many parts are designed with channels and voids where powder can get trapped. To address these issues, German company Solukon Maschienbau GmbH has developed a series of machines that remove powder from finished 3D printed metal parts automatically. The machines rotate and vibrate the 3D printed parts, shaking loose any excess powder.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is well-known for its work with the Large Hadron Collider, but the organization does a lot of work with additive manufacturing as well – frequently 3D printing parts for its particle accelerators. For such a busy organization, efficiency is key, so CERN has now deployed Solukon’s automated depowdering units to clean laser melted metal parts made from reactive titanium alloys.

“Powder removal is a critical phase of Additive Manufacturing for application Ultra-High-Vacuum,” said Romain Gérard, Additive Manufacturing Engineer at CERN. “We observed that powder residues, that are subsequently sintered during heat treatment, act like sponges by trapping gases and releasing them at a very low rate. The SFM-AT300 automated depowdering unit from Solukon ensures a high depowdering quality with a safe environment for titanium and niobium powder.”

Solukon’s depowdering machines remove powder quickly and economically, with time savings of up to 90 percent. Automatic and programmable depowdering operations make the machines easy to use, and their design is maintenance-friendly as well. The systems offer a high degree of protection from hazardous dust build-up, and inert gas infusion to prevent an explosive atmosphere. They also provide sustained inert material handling to avoid contamination with oxygen. The machines feature a sturdy design for uninterrupted operation and reproducible cleaning results for certified production processes, as well as convenient part handling. They are suitable for use with parts from all manufacturing systems on the market.

“The high requirements for safety and cleaning results make CERN an exemplary customer for Solukon. The combination of the reactivity of the used titanium powder and the complex internal structures of the parts make it perfectly suitable for our systems,” said Andreas Hartmann, CEO and Technical Director at Solukon.

With the depowdering systems installed, CERN can more safely and efficiently 3D print parts for its particle accelerators, simplifying the manufacture of these parts and saving money over traditional methods of manufacturing.

“Through programmable rotation of the part and the build plate around one or two axes, non-fused build material is removed from complex voids and support structures,” said Dominik Schmid, CEO.

Solukon currently has its machines installed in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below.


3D Printing News Briefs: October 10, 2018

It’s business news as usual to kick things off in today’s 3D Printing News Briefs, and then we’re moving on to a little medical and metal 3D printing news, followed by a 3D printing experiment and a superhero-sized 3D printed statue. The LEHVOSS Group is expanding the production capacities for its LUVOCOM material, DyeMansion has announced that its new RAL colors are now available, and the Million Waves Project receives a large grant from Shell Oil. A medical technology company is using HP’s Multi Jet Fusion to 3D print dental aligners, a YouTube video shows the depowdering process for a metal 3D printed turbine, and an experiment shows if it’s possible to use a DLP 3D printer for PCB etching. Finally, WhiteClouds designed and 3D printed a huge statue of She-Ra for a special event.

LEHVOSS Group Expanding LUVOCOM Production Capacity

Not long ago, the LEHVOSS Group, which operates under the management of parent company Lehmann&Voss&Co., revealed that that it would be showcasing its high-performance, thermoplastic LUVOCOM 3F 3D printing compounds at upcoming trade shows. Now, in order to keep meeting the ever increasing demand for these materials, the company has taken important steps, such as constructing a new laboratory and innovation center in Hamburg and commissioning an additional compounding line, to expand the worldwide production capacities for LUVOCOM.

“At the same time, these investments are just another consistent step within the framework of our long-term growth strategy,” said Dr. Thomas Oehmichen, a shareholder of Lehmann&Voss&Co. with personal liability. “Additional extensive investments in the expansion of our plastics business are currently the subject of detailed planning and are set to follow shortly.”

DyeMansion’s New RAL Colors Available

While attending the TCT Show in Birmingham recently, DyeMansion launched three machines that work together to depowder, surface treat, and dye 3D printed parts. The DM60 is the fully automated dyeing part of the system, and the company added a brand new palette of 170 standard RAL colors for PA2200 to its portfolio to let people expand the color range of the system significantly.

DyeMansion has now announced that its new RAL colors for the PolyShot Surfacing (PSS) finish are now available for DM60 color cartridges, and can be ordered via the DyeMansion On-Demand Service. To check if your favorite colors are available, type in the RAL color code on the website. To learn more about the RAL palette and the Print-to-Product workflow, visit DyeMansion’s booth 3.1-G61 at formnext in Germany next month.

Shell Oil Gives Million Waves Project a $5,000 Grant

About 40 million people in the developing world don’t have access to the prosthetic limbs they desperately need, while an estimated 28 billion pounds of plastic trash is dumped into our oceans each year. 501c(3) non-profit organization the Million Waves Project is working to fix both of these problems by using recycled ocean plastic to make inexpensive, 3D printed prosthetic limbs for children. The organization is pleased to announce that it will be now be able to make even more 3D printed prosthetics for kids thanks to a $5,000 grant that Shell Oil is providing.

“We are so excited to partner with this incredible nonprofit that aims to help serve the millions of people in need of prosthetic limbs,” said Brenna Clairr, an external relations advisor at Shell. “Our vision at the refinery is to proudly fuel life in the Pacific Northwest for our employees, contractors and our community, and we help bring that vision to life by collaborating with organizations like a Million Waves Project.”

HP’s MJF Technology Used to 3D Print Dental Aligners

Swiss medical technology company nivellmedical AG is focused on developing, manufacturing, and distributing nivellipso, a novel clear aligner system for correcting misaligned teeth. The system, a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to the conventional fixed braces, uses biocompatible, invisible plastic splints that gently move teeth to the desired position. The company is using HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology to make its  dental aligners, which has helped improve its digital workflow.

“We are putting our focus on precision and quality work,” said Dr. Milan Stojanovic, the head of the nivellmedical board. “3D printing technology has simplified a lot of the production of aligners.

The patient’s mouth is scanned, and the scan is then sent to the laboratory, where a model is 3D printed and used to properly fit the aligners before they are shipped out to the patient. Learn more about the process in the video below:

Depowdering a Metal 3D Print Build

Have you ever seen those videos on the internet that are supposed to be ‘oddly satisfying’ and stress-reliving in a way you can’t quite figure out? The ones that show a ton of matches lighting up in a pattern, or someone slowly squishing their hands in a beautifully decorated pile of slime or some other weird material? Nick Drobchenko, a YouTube user from Saint Petersburg, has now introduced the 3D printing equivalent with his video of using a brush to slowly remove the metal powder from a 3D printed part.

“Hollow stainless steel turbine, 90mm diameter. Printing time 4.5 hours,” Drobchenko wrote in the video description. “Printing cost $140, about 30 cm3.”

If the video below does not soothe and/or satisfy you, then I’m not sure what will:

Can a DLP 3D Printer Be Used for PCB Etching?

A maker named Andrei who goes by Electronoobs online recently acquired a couple of DLP 3D printers. After reviewing them, he wanted to see if it was possible to use DLP 3D printers to build the mask for PCB etching. So he created an experiment – with surprising results – and published a video about his experience on YouTube.

“I would only use the UV light of the printer to create the mask for the PCB, and then etch it using acid for copper PCBs just as always,” he explained in the video.

In addition to the DLP 3D printers, other things required for this experiment included copper boards, dry photosensitive film, sodium carbonate, latex gloves, and an iron. Spoiler alert – Electronoobs succeeds in using DLP technology to 3D print a mask for PCB etching. To see the rest of his impressive experiment, check out the video below:

3D Printed She-Ra Statue for New York Comic-Con

[Image: Darinda Ropelato via Facebook]

Utah-based 3D printing services company Whiteclouds has plenty of experience with the technology in many applications, from aerospace, gaming, and mapping to medical for both animals and humans. But recently, the employees got to participate in a project that was, as Whiteclouds CEO Jerry Ropelato told, “one of the coolest (and funnest) 3D prints” they’ve ever worked on. The company was asked to design and 3D print the statue of She-Ra at the recent New York Comic-Con.

“It was our tallest at 11 foot tall,” Ropelato told us.

DreamWorks and Netflix are bringing She-Ra and the Princesses of Power back to life with an animated series that will begin next month. According to a Facebook post by Ropelato, Whiteclouds enjoyed every bit of the Comic-Con project, which included designing and 3D printing She-Ra’s throne and sword. The team used touch-sensitivity electronics for activating the sound and lighting for the statue, and were proud to have a small part in the She-Ra reboot.

Discuss these stories and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Interview with Kai Witter Looking at the Business Case for DyeMansion Depowdering and Dyeing Powder Bed Fusion Parts

From file to software to machine to finished part takes a design along a path through many different vendors, formats, processes, and interactions. We as an industry are trying to manufacture, reliably with a disparate set of tools and technologies. In between ones and zeroes and finished product we have many crucial steps that get an idea closer towards becoming a thing. Depowdering in powder bed fusion (SLS, selective laser sintering) and other powder technologies such as Multijet Fusion was once seen as a cost center. An annoying laborious task that had to be done. A block of powder with 3D printed parts in it had to be sieved, hand cleaned for the parts to be sorted, matched and shipped. As much as a third of 3D printed part cost is manual labor. You can appreciate this is you see how this depowdering process works and just how labor intensive it is. Companies have traditionally offered tumblers and other surface treatment solutions to ameliorate this and improve surface finish. A few years ago a company wanted to change this. Rather that seeing depowdering as a cost center they saw it as a part of a series of process steps that elevated a mere polymer shape into a consumer-friendly part. Rather than just selling a machine that performed an operation this team, the DyeMansion team developed three different machines that while working together could depowder, surface treat and dye a part. A process chain with a high degree of automation and tooling meant to work together in a highly optimized way. We covered the company before when they raised a series A of five million, when they launched in the US, when they won an award, when they went to AMUG, when they showed at Formnext in 2016 and when they got investment previously.


The Powershot C parts cleaning machine, step 1.

When I got started dyeing SLS parts was done in those electric soup kettles that you see at catered events. We used Dylon meant for coloring t-shirts and had a person stirring by hand. Parts would dye unevenly becoming dark blue on one side and lighter on the other. It was a mess always and cauldrons full of red and blue dye were everywhere. It didn’t exactly feel like the future of manufacturing rather more the future of witchcraft. And that is precisely where we are now. We’re going from spells, hope, exotic ingredients and promises to ISO, GMP and repeatable production. What do we see? Everyone wants to make or sell 3D printers, lots of people are developing software and many sell materials but only one firm is developing a line of post-processing solutions that in an integrated way depowders, cleans and surfaces parts. The three machines work in tandem and are rather confusingly named the Dyemansion Powershot C, Powershot S and Dimension DM 60. The Powershot C is not a camera but then again there are precedents in the 3D printing industry in having names similar to camera names. The C cleans parts and depowders them using movement and ionization and damaging parts less than alternatives, while the S is a blasting cabinet with a high degree of automation that gives parts a more closed and more uniform surface texture and structure; and the DM 60 is the dyeing unit.

The S, the second step for surfacing.

All in all I’m a huge believer that in a Gold Rush sell picks and shovels and have heard great things about the labor-saving capabilities of these units from friends. We spoke to Kai Witter who after a long 3D printing career became the sales manager at DyeMansion and is helping bring the technology to manufacturers worldwide.

The DM60 Dyeing unit

Kai said that Dyemansion is, “A company that’s evolving from a startup to a global market leader who offers value-adding post-processing solutions for AM plastic parts manufacturing. We are the challenger of the status quo, together with AM printer manufacturers we challenge injection molding industry.” 

How much labor does your depowdering station save? If I did 5 full builds a week, how much money or how many hours would I save?

As usual, all this is application dependent. Let’s look at saved hours as cost of conventional manual blasting units and staff costs vary a lot:

The average cleaning time of one batch with PowerShot C is 10 mins

  • Let’s assume 100 mid-sized mid complex geometry parts (loading volume is a full HP4200 job or 75% of a EOS P3x Job). So we assume 5 Runs/week
  • Loading and unloading each 2 mins, in total 4 Mins

Powershot C:           

  • 4 mins (loading & unloading)
  • 5 runs a week
  • 50 weeks
  • 4 m(ins) x 5 (runs) x 50 (weeks) = 1000 mins or 16,5 hrs 

Conventional manual blasting:

  • 3 mins average. cleaning time/part
  • 4 mins (loading & unloading)
  • 5 runs a week
  • 50 weeks
  • Cleaning: 100 (parts) x 3 (mins) x 5 (runs) x 50 (weeks) = 75.000 mins/1.250hrs
  • Loading & unloading: 4 (mins) x 5 (runs) x 50 (weeks) = 1.000 mins
    • 76.000 mins or 1267 hrs
  • 16 vs 1267 hrs

  • Powershot C saves 1251 working hours. 

So it is three units that work together? How do they work and how much do they cost?

The three unity combined build an integrated workflow, so called ‘print-2-Product’ workflow to turn 3D printed raw parts into high value products in 3 hours only. Automated, efficient and reproducible.

  1. Powershot C: Cleans parts in 10 mins only, without damaging the surface. Compared to manual cleaning we assure the sensitive surface of 3D printed raw parts is not damaged from too much blasting pressure and broken or worn blasting media.
  2. Powershot S: Refines the surface of the raw parts with a smooth touch, matte-glossy finish and improves scratch and water resistance of the parts in 10 mins only. The PolyShot process prepares the part for homogeneous dye absorption that leads to an even color image over the complete surface of each part and all the parts.
  3. DyeMansion DM60: Is the fully automated Dyeing system to fit out the parts with any color required. The DM60 adds the final value to parts. Launched at tct 2018 we have added 170 standard RAL colors to our out of the box portfolio. Any other color, suiting the material and required finish of the part can be developed at DyeMansion in only 3-4 weeks


So how does it work as an investment? 

“If we assume industry standard of 5 years depreciation and the calculation above (saving 1250 hrs pa) customers have a positive impact on their bottom line after the 1st month of using the Powershot C.” 

Why is damage prevention so important?

“Our infiltration Dyeing process does not add a layer to the raw part as we know it from spry painting. They dye connects with the material and avoids another process step to create a nice surface. Further it enables to finish printed textures, eg leather structure alike textures as used for automotive or aerospace interior parts.”

What does the ionization do?

“It removes the static charge of the parts and thus avoids that parts attract loose powder residue in the cabin atmosphere back to the parts. It ensures that parts are really clean.”  

Why is a homogenous surface quality important?

“A homogeneous dye absorption is the prerequisite for an even color image of the end use part. We finish the printed part including printed textures without any impact on the geometry. Neither the Powershot C (Step 1), nor Powershot S (Step 2) are abrasive and (Step 3) the dyeing, does not add a layer to the part like spray painting does. Thus, an additional process ta accomplish high quality end-use part surface is not required.”

How does the second step work?

“The PolyShot surfacing is a proprietary surface compression process with plastic media to even out the heterogeneous surface roughness and porosity of 3D Printed plastic parts.”

Why is the feel of the product important?

People are used to comparing parts with what they know, such as Injection molded parts. Rough surfaces don’t create an image of quality, they are scratch and dirt sensitive.

It is all about perception and mind change. The high-quality perception of 3D printed parts on a manufacturing level, even if the visual appearance may not be relevant for the functionality (functional end-use parts or functional protoytypes) is a prerequisite to open up more and more applications that are injection molded today, maybe only because of the feel.

Does it make it feel more luxurious?

I would not call it luxurious. I think it meets injection molded standards, at least. Nevertheless, some of our customers from the life style industry describe our matte-glossy look as more valuable than the typical shiny look & feel known from Injection molded parts.

How long do these steps take?

  • Step 1 – Powershot Cleaning => 10 mins
  • Step 2 – Polyshot Surfacing => 10 Mins before the dyeing and optionally a few minutes after the dyeing to increase the matte-glossy look & feel.
  • Step 3 – Dyeing => 90 to 150 mins

How does the coloring process work?

“We have developed an automated, flexible, geometry independent infiltration process where the parts are constantly moving in a water bath. The cartridge is filled with the recipe (reflecting color, material and finish) to accomplish the required color. Further a RFID chip on the cartridge defines the required process parameters such as temperature curve, holding time and pressure that is required. The dye connects with the part as a chemical reaction.

The recipe and DM60 process together make reproducible, high quality end-use parts. The operator just scans the RFID information, adds parts and Cartridge to the part basket of the DM60 and presses start. After 90 – 150 mins the DM60 process is finished including a cleaning and fixation step. When the DM 60 door opens, parts a free of dye.”

 How much are the cartridges and how do they work?

“The cartridge price varies between €40 and €105 depending on the required volume of the dyebath.

The cartridge contains the recipe for the required color and the RFID Chip for the required DM60 process parameters. The cartridge is inserted into a shaft at the bottom of the part basket. The cartridge is opened and the dye mixed with the water when the DM60 has reached the process conditions. After 90-150 minutes the parts are ready just a little moisture (Dye free) from the cleaning a fixation phase remains.”

How many colors can I do?

“We have around 200 Colors of the shelf and have developed more than 400 individual colors for customers, such as corporate colors, creative colors and for special finishes. We can develop almost any color within 3-4 weeks development time.The price is €250 for a defined color from a color system such as Pantone and €750 form a reference part.”

What are some of the interesting things customers are doing with your products?

This is always the toughest questions. There are so many interesting and mind-blowing applications with DyeMansion. But the competitive advantage our customers accomplish prevents them from making it public. Famous parts are automotive and Aerospace interior parts, prothesis and orthoses, medical devices and instruments, Eyewear frames and top-notch sports shoes with 3D Printed and DM finished midsoles.