Interview: Rösler and AM Solutions Discuss 3D Post-Processing Technology


Rösler is traditionally known for its work in mass finishing and shot blasting solutions. This firm has also carved a name for itself in the field of additive manufacturing through AM Solutions.

In an interview, David Soldan, Head of AM Solutions – 3D post-processing technology, and Volker Löhnert, Managing Director, Rösler Oberflächentechnik GmbH, shared their thoughts about the firm’s innovative approach in light of the rise of 3D printing.

About four years ago, Rösler acknowledged the potential of 3D printing as a new production method for metal and plastic parts. They foresaw their traditional business model growing alongside this latest crop of 3D printed products. Löhnert referred to their customers’ need for solutions suited to 3D printed parts, which he noted has “a surface much rougher than casting.” He highlighted the differences between 3D printing environments and traditional casting settings, leading to their realization that their standard solutions might not be up to par in this new field.

Soldan emphasized the importance of adapting to the unique needs of 3D printed parts. Unlike with traditional manufacturing processes, post-processing of these products entails the management of powder, dealing with rough surfaces, and even the incorporation of chemistry within post-processing machines. They focus on innovative 2-in-1 solutions that enhance the efficiency and quality of post-processing for 3D-printed products. These solutions streamline the entire process chain and significantly cut down the cost per piece. This strategy allows the company to meet the needs of customers who seek high-volume production with 3D printing technologies.

Löhnert also touched upon their extensive experience with consumables and chemicals in the mass finishing process, emphasizing the firm’s readiness to transfer this knowledge to the 3D printing arena. This venture, they hope, will not only expand Rösler’s footprint but will also bring forth solutions that resonate with the evolving demands of the market.

Read more in the 3D Printing Industry Executive Interview series.

AM Solutions Integrative Approach: Streamlining Post-Processing in 3D Printing

Delving into the additive manufacturing sector, David Soldan and Volker Löhnert from Rösler/AM Solutions are pioneering a unique approach for optimizing post-processing procedures. They’re utilizing an assortment of mass finishing and shot blasting methods and, lately, chemical processes.

Soldan disclosed that the organization’s objective is centered around 2-in-1 solutions. These are designed to cut down the expense of AM post-processing and make the process chain more efficient. This is critical for helping AM gain widespread acceptance across different industries as a feasible bulk production technology. They believe that merging various processes into a single machine not just saves on capital investment, but also minimizes machine size and streamlines the post-processing moves in the AM process chain.

Emphasizing on the importance of standardization, Löhnert pointed out the difficulty due to the existence of multiple printers and models in the market. He mentioned, “It’s also tough to locate a single post-processing solution that suits all,” highlighting the complexity that post-processing specialists like AM Solutions have to tackle.

Soldan also pointed out a less considered challenge – the scarcity of knowledge and expertise in additive manufacturing at the shop level. He called for the need of an enhanced educational structure to foster a new breed of additive specialists.

Löhnert stressed the active involvement of AM Solutions with major printer manufacturers such as HP or EOS, as well as prolific users like Protolabs, Weerg, Shapeways or FKM Additive Manufacturing in order to better comprehend the industry’s activity and requirements. “We are conversing and teaming up with some of the leading printer manufacturers around the globe to make sense of their perspective,” he said, exemplifying a shared effort towards producing goods and procedures for a range of applications. Furthermore, their partnerships with local academic institutions aim to emphasize the significance of post-processing, fostering a ‘ready for post-processing’ approach among prospective engineers.

Soldan emphasized the necessity of considering the complete process chain, originating at the design phase, by stating, “We have to comprehend that our clients must consider the entire process chain.” He declared that more often than not, attention is abnormally shifted to reducing the expenses of printing, while failing to account for overall costs accumulated from manual post-processing and management. He suggested that focus be given to having an open-minded view of the process chain, potentially allocating more periods in the printing procedure to profit in post-processing.

AM Solutions’ Innovative Leap: Introducing C2, the Dual-Action Chemical Smoothing and Dyeing Machine

Soldan highlighted the company’s “2-in-1 process,” explaining that the C2 machine, developed for the production of polymer parts via SLS and MJF powder bed processes, aptly encapsulates this notion.

The ingenious 2-in-1 Liquid Color Smoothing procedure employed by the C2 machine allows for the simultaneous smoothing and dyeing of parts. This effectively streamlines the process chain, with a single machine undertaking both functions. It not only reduces the overall capital investment necessary, but also cuts down the final expense per finished part. In contrast to other methods, the immersion smoothing technology utilized brings down the processing time, and the specially formulated process medium is notably more environmentally friendly.

The C2 machine is a true representation of AM Solutions’ progressive philosophy, combining chemical smoothing and dyeing processes into a single, uninterrupted step. “The huge benefit is having everything done in one single step,” Soldan said, pointing towards a substantial decrease in manual handling and machine changes that normally inflate the post-processing chain.

Speaking about the readiness and scalability of additive manufacturing in the market, Soldan identified the hindrances of absent standards and the diverse range of suppliers, which necessitates customized post-processing. He stressed, “we need to collectively bring down costs across the entire industry,” a belief that strongly influences the C2’s “2-in-1” design approach. It’s not merely about machine integration, but rather a holistic reduction in operational expenses, energy use, and human resource requirements.

Löhnert added the broader objective is to merge processes to simplify operations and minimize technological footprint. He acknowledged existing market systems for smoothing and dyeing as not being the “real end solution” due to their complex and potentially hazardous handling. AM Solutions endeavors to make chemical smoothing more user-friendly and safer.

Unveiling Hidden Costs: AM Solutions Sheds Light on Manual Handling Expenses in 3D Printing

David Soldan and Volker Löhnert explored the economic impact of manual handling in the post-processing of 3D printed parts. While precise quantification remains elusive due to varying circumstances, Soldan estimated that post-processing could account for up to nearly half the total product cost.

Exploring the progression of additive manufacturing (AM), Soldan pointed out a continuous trend on the polymer side, with the metal scene witnessing an increase. Most notably, sectors like automotive, medical, and aerospace reflect this growth. Löhnert particularly highlighted the aerospace and medical sectors’ ascendency in metal utilization.

Discussion included the interpretation of scaling in AM’s context. This discussion subtly suggested the necessity for an in-depth understanding to decipher the shifting trends.

Moving to scaling within AM, Löhnert highlighted that production quantities vary significantly among users. Referencing a report by AMPOWER (2023), he mentioned the additive manufacturing market is worth €9.5 billion in 2022, and anticipates compound annual growth rate to be 17.7% through 2027. He underscored the current hindrance posed by manual post-processing for increased efficiency, advocating for automated processes.

Both Soldan and Löhnert stressed the need for organization-wide collaborations to establish guidelines and mitigate expenses. Soldan asserted, “The entire industry must collectively work to decrease costs. If additive manufactured components don’t provide additional quality benefits, users consider costs per unit. If conventional components are less expensive, consumers will resort to traditional methods for production.”

Despite the allure of million-part production runs, the duo acknowledged that the industry’s core is reducing costs, primarily incurred in post-processing. “We have to bring costs down. Some customers are already there, but it’s just a few, and the majority is still in some smaller batches, small series production, and still a lot of rapid prototyping,” Soldan stated.

Highlighting their unique position as a relatively new company nested within the 80-year-old Rösler Group, Löhnert emphasized the agility and long-term vision that sets AM Solutions apart from other post-processing providers. “Quarterly reports to external stakeholders do not drive us. We are an independent family-owned company and can make our decisions regarding customers,” Löhnert noted, underscoring their customer-centric approach.

On geographical focus, Soldan pointed out Europe and the US as their primary markets, albeit with a watchful eye on China’s burgeoning 3D printing landscape. The discourse also touched on sustainability, with Löhnert outlining their efforts to minimize energy consumption both in machine design and operation.

The C2 from AM Solutions. Photo via AM Solutions.

Exploring Tech Challenges: AM Solutions’ Pursuit for 3D Printing Post-Processing Flexibility

In the discussion, challenges faced by the company in refining 3D printing post-processing were highlighted. As the sector progresses to a more productive print framework, post-processing continues to be an essential, albeit tough, step. Soldan highlights the intrinsic difficulty stating, “Some of our clients aren’t sure what they’ll print in the following month, nonetheless the processing solution has to be adaptable,” showcasing an urge for flexibility in post-processing solutions.

Despite the rapid development within the sector, Löhnert sees a positive trend for the industry, anticipating more industrial production areas being taken over by 3D printing. Nonetheless, he insisted that regardless of enhancements in printing efficiency and quality, post-processing is still crucial. “Always post-processing is required to get the surface right,” he pointed out.

With the introduction of new verticals, the leaders see substantial potential, particularly as the sector starts to produce thousands of components daily. This change demands an escalation not only in printing but also in post-processing, a department AM Solutions is keenly watching. “We are set for the scale-up,” Soldan declared.

Löhnert articulated the ambition for AM Solutions, striving for a reputation such that when it comes to post-processing, clients’ ideas naturally lean towards their services. The objective is to harmonise with clients’ expectations in terms of surface quality and automation in handling.

In a final remark, Soldan highlighted AM Solutions’ unique location as a legitimate machine producer, managing every aspect of machine production internally, from laser cutting to 3D printing. He stated, “This also presents us the chance to attune to our clients if they require something specific, which isn’t standard.” This internal expertise, as per Soldan, differentiates AM Solutions in the post-processing scene, ready to instigate substantial advancement in the 3D printing sector. With an eye on forthcoming market trends, the company is committed to guaranteeing post-processing does not become the hindrance in the wider manufacturing process sequence.

Explore all the 3D Printing Industry reporting from Formnext 2023.

What will the future of 3D printing look like in the upcoming decade?

Original source


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