Latest Update: 3D Printing News – January 27, 2024 – Spotlight on PAEK, Triangle Mesh, Bionic Arm and Other Developments


In this edition of 3D Printing News Briefs, the discussion revolves around PAEK materials and Quality Analysis for polymer 3D printing; this is followed by live electron beam additive production tracking. Upwing Energy implemented Velo3D’s AM process into its patented gas compressor module, with decoder-only transformers creating triangle meshes. In other news, McDonald’s now features a 3D printed luminaire. Lastly, medical innovations feature the use of soundwaves to solidify 3D printed solutions in deep tissue; additionally, an 84-year-old amputee becomes the oldest individual to receive a bionic arm from Open Bionics.

Victrex & University of Exeter Extend PAEK Development Collaboration

The University of Exeter and Victrex commenced their collaboration in 2018 to pioneer next-gen polyaryletherketone (PAEK) 3D printing materials. The partnership’s success has led to the decison to extend it for another five years. The collaboration will continue to mutually invest in PAEK materials and processes until 2028. Victrex is a global PAEK leader, while the university’s Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing (CALM) serves as the UK’s excellent hub for high-temperature polymer AM, equipped with high-end AM equipment. Together with the Exeter Technologies Group (ETG), Victrex will aim to elucidate the science underlying several PAEK-associated processes, encompassing AM.

Driving this continued partnership is the work’s potential high impact, as well as strategic alignment with Victrex’s R&D goals. Several scientific and industrial outcomes have already resulted from their collaboration, including patents, scientific publications, and case studies about the fundamental science of PAEK materials and AM, as well as new PAEK materials tailored specifically for AM and other new collaborative projects. Victrex and the university will now continue to work on funded PAEK research projects with other ecosystem partners, and encourage new proposals for other related collaborations. Hopefully, the results from their continued work will speed up innovations through virtual experimentation and by creating new tailored PAEK polymer solutions.

SKZ & Optris Using Infrared Cameras for 3D Printing QA

There are many parameters that need to be set to ensure a successful FFF 3D print, and defects can pop up quickly. Particularly when printing spare parts with a rapid turnaround, these defects need to be immediately identified, so quality assurance (QA) throughout the process and on the finished component is necessary in industrial applications. One promising QA approach in 3D printing is thermography, as it can be used for whole surfaces and involves no contact. Using an infrared camera, inspection can be easily conducted both during and after printing. The German Plastics Center (SKZ) is partnering with Optris GmbH, which specializes in infrared measurement technology, to optimize QA in 3D printing with thermal imaging cameras.

3D printing QA primarily utilizes optical monitoring processes, although they may not always deliver accurate results. In response, SKZ has created a new imaging solution for inline quality assurance of 3D printing using an innovative tool – the Optris PI 640i infrared camera. This compact and high-resolution camera provides live display of filament deposition while concurrently monitoring process parameters, facilitating the identification of typical issues such as cracks and delamination. It allows frame-by-frame analysis of the thermographic data generated during image capture to detect problems early in the printing process. Moreover, Optris cameras can non-destructively examine 3D printed parts for damage or functionality after they have been put to use.

MiniMelt Facilitates Real-Time Tracking of Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion

For the advancement of alloy and process development in Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-EB) additive manufacturing, thorough knowledge of the physics of heating, melting, and solidification cycles is necessary. In a recent study, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon’s Institute of Materials Physics, DESY Photon Science, and Freemelt AB have detailed the design and development of “MiniMelt: An instrument for real-time tracking of electron beam additive manufacturing using synchrotron x-ray techniques.” MiniMelt is devised as a sample environment for in situ x-ray characterization during PBF-EB 3D printing. It is installed at the German synchrotron facility PETRA III at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY). Building on the Freemelt ONE design, MiniMelt features a unique process chamber enabling real-time synchrotron measurements during printing. The researchers also propose a new unconfined powder bed design, resembling the conditions of the PBF-EB process.

The first radiography (15 kHz) and diffraction (1 kHz) measurements of PBF-EB with a hot-work tool steel and a Ni-base superalloy, as well as bulk metal melting with the CMSX-4 alloy, using the sample environment are presented. MiniMelt enables time-resolved investigations of the dynamic phenomena taking place during multi-layer PBF-EB, facilitating process understanding and development of advanced process strategies and materials for PBF-EB,” the researchers wrote.

Upwing Energy Integrates Velo3D’s AM for Gas Compressor Module

Gas tech innovator and service company Upwing Energy has successfully integrated metal AM into its manufacturing process, specifically laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) from Velo3D. Upwing’s patented Subsurface Compressor System (SCS) is used to increase production and recoverability of natural gas from wells, and it uses a multistage hybrid axial compressor to increase drawdown at intake and pressure at discharge. The compressor’s rotor design especially requires very complex surface geometries, but with Velo3D’s metal AM and expertise, Upwing not only achieves this, but can also move from engineering design to full rotor assembly in just 10 weeks to support well deployment schedules. Extensive testing with Velo3D proved that the Inconel 718 3D printed parts maintain high quality and durability.

All of our work at Upwing is underscored by the belief that continuous improvement is always possible. Our decision to integrate additive manufacturing makes us more scalable and adaptable. It allows us to create parts that are not only durable, but intricately designed and finished with the highest level of precision,” said Robert McKeirnan, Vice President of Supply Chain and External Manufacturing at Upwing Energy.

Automated Triangle Mesh Generation with Decoder-Only Transformers

As opposed to alternative 3D shape representations like voxels or point clouds, meshes are easier to manipulate, more controllable and compact, fit into modern rendering pipelines, and offer a more coherent surface representation. Triangle meshes, in particular, are the main representation in computer graphics for 3D geometry. A team of researchers from Technical University of Munich, Politecnico di Torino, and AUDI AG wrote a paper on “MeshGPT: Generating Triangle Meshes with Decoder-Only Transformers,” about automated generation of triangle meshes to streamline the process of creating 3D assets. The team synthesizes these meshes as sequences of triangles via a direct sequence generation method.

“We introduce MeshGPT, a new approach for generating triangle meshes that reflects the compactness typical of artist-created meshes, in contrast to dense triangle meshes extracted by iso-surfacing methods from neural fields. Inspired by recent advances in powerful large language models, we adopt a sequence-based approach to autoregressively generate triangle meshes as sequences of triangles. We first learn a vocabulary of latent quantized embeddings, using graph convolutions, which inform these embeddings of the local mesh geometry and topology. These embeddings are sequenced and decoded into triangles by a decoder, ensuring that they can effectively reconstruct the mesh. A transformer is then trained on this learned vocabulary to predict the index of the next embedding given previous embeddings. Once trained, our model can be autoregressively sampled to generate new triangle meshes, directly generating compact meshes with sharp edges, more closely imitating the efficient triangulation patterns of human-crafted meshes. MeshGPT demonstrates a notable improvement over state of the art mesh generation methods, with a 9% increase in shape coverage and a 30-point enhancement in FID scores across various categories,” they wrote in their abstract.

Cooper Lighting Solutions 3D Prints Custom Light for McDonald’s

McDonald’s Corp. needed pendant designs for new stores, but an off-the-shelf design was impossible—they wanted a scalable solution, short lead time, competitive cost, and to own the IP rights. The company worked with Cooper Lighting Solutions, which was acquired by Signify in 2020, to design a 3D printed, semispherical luminaire with an embossed pattern. During the consultation and design process, the client and designers had several conversations, and Cooper Lighting had a 3D printed sample product ready in three months. After three more months of hashing out the details, McDonald’s gave its final approval for the custom luminaire, which Signify’s Phillips Lighting team printed out of a polycarbonate material custom-built for its products. The fixture’s surface has raised patterns and lines to shape the light, and the luminaire is durable, easy to clean, recyclable, and doesn’t yellow with age, which were all factors McDonald’s wanted. Plus, because Signify has 3D printing facilities all over the world, local manufacturing is possible.

“The whole fixture is done in one print; it doesn’t stop, there are no breaks, the printing just slows down a little, thickens up the polycarbonate, and creates that line so that light doesn’t penetrate,” explained Lawrence Fallon, Business Development Manager, Prentalux, Cooper Lighting Solutions. “It was something McDonald’s had never seen able to be done on a single-piece fixture. A lot of manufacturers could’ve added paint, or they could’ve added a basket over it or hung something over a glass fixture to create that type of look, but the fact that we were able to print it right into the fixture was very unique.”

Ultrasound Waves Harden 3D Printed Treatments in Deep Tissues

Over the years, researchers developed a photo-sensitive ink for medical 3D printing that responds directly to targeted beams of light, hardening quickly into the final structure. But, researchers can only use transparent inks, which limits biomedical applications, as light can’t reach past just a few millimeters into tissue. Now, engineers at Duke University and Harvard Medical School have created a biocompatible ink that solidifies into different biologically compatible 3D shapes and structures when it’s exposed to and absorbs ultrasound waves. Plus, since it responds to sound waves and not light, the viscous ink can be used in deep tissues for biomedical purposes including bone healing and heart valve repair. The method is called deep-penetrating acoustic volumetric printing, or DVAP, and starts with a sonicated ink, or sono-ink, made of hydrogels, microparticles, and molecules designed to react to ultrasound waves. Once it’s delivered, a special printing probe sends ultrasound waves into the ink, which hardens portions into structures. The team successfully conducted three tests as a proof-of-concept of their new DVAP method.

DVAP leverages the sono-thermal effect, a process where absorbed soundwaves raise the temperature to solidify our ink. Ultrasonic waves can infiltrate over 100 times deeper than light while still being spatially confined, allowing us to access tissues, bones, and organs with stellar precision, unreachable through light-based printing methods,” has been clarified by Junjie Yao, an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University, the creator of the ultrasound printing technology for DVAP.

Since we can print through tissue, it permits numerous potential applications in operations and therapies that usually imply very invasive and disruptive methods. This innovation ushers us into an exciting new territory in the 3D printing domain, and we can’t wait to explore the potential of this tool in unison.”

A Senior Citizen Becomes the Oldest Recipient of a Bionic Hero Arm

Christa Seubert, an 84-year-old resident of Würzburg, Germany, is the senior-most individual globally to be equipped with a 3D-printed Bionic Hero Arm from Open. Initially considered a blocked carpal tunnel condition, Seubert was later diagnosed with a severe form of cancer. After unsuccessful chemotherapy, it was imperative to amputate her right arm to save her life. Despite being active and having hobbies like gardening, cycling, crafting and pet-keeping, she found it challenging to return to everyday activities like buttering her bread. A lightweight prosthesis was what she required and within 60 minutes of stepping in, she was already using her Hero Arm to walk her dog. Open Bionics, established in 2014, aims to create economically feasible, assistive tools that can transform disabilities into superpowers. The Hero Arm utilises myoelectric detectors to recognise the fundamental muscular contractions derived from the arm’s designated muscle groups and amplifies, converting them into corresponding, intuitive bionic hand gestures. The implementation of 3D scanning and printing ensures every bionic arm is personalised for its user.

Christa’s Hero Arm fitting brings about significant benefits. Its ease of use, extremely low weight compared to other prostheses, and simplicity to wear and remove I believe will enable her to enjoy her autonomy,” conveyed Mathias Stegemann, CPO at APT Prostheses in Würzburg, the individual in charge of fitting Seubert for her Bionic Arm.

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