Additive manufacturing (AM) post-processing specialist Solukon has announced two new product updates this month which mark a “crucial step towards fully integrated automation and quality assurance” in industrial 3D printing.

The company, known for developing machines which automate powder removal from AM parts, has introduced a fine-tuned sensor and interface management concept called the Solukon Digital Factory Tool which is said to allow easy integration of its post-processing technology into a holistic digital production environment.

In a press release, Solukon suggested “connectivity” as a possible “turning point” towards “fully automated additive manufacturing.” To address that, this new tool covers production control, maintenance management, integration of automation and process validation and quality management in an effort to increase efficiency and ensure continuous quality control.

In the case of production control, Solukon has been applying its OPC-UA interface to enable central controlling and monitoring while in maintenance management since 2017. The Solukon Digital Factory Tool enables the operator to integrate all information into the dashboard of the machinery app while the new sensor system monitors all sensitive machine components and processes referring to lifetime of the machine. Data and parameters referring to cleaning programs, such as running time and batch number, are said to be easy to assign via the network. Solukon points to one of its SFM-AT800 systems which has been in operation with an OPC-UA interface at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU) as part of a modular robot cell. The cell also consists of a system for analysing part geometry and another for support removal, which all communicate via the OPC-UA.

For process validation and quality management, the Digital Factory Tool provides a fine-tuned sensor package to record relevant conditions in the process chamber such as residual oxygen, humidity, pressure, temperature and frequency of the vibrator, in a protocol file for quality assurance. Solukon says effective evaluation of the recorded data helps to validate the process in an overall quality certificate, simplifies process optimisation and believes having the ability to use this data to create a certification document will be crucial for the adoption of AM in highly regulated industries such as aerospace and medical.

Solukon plans to offer the Digital Factory Tool as a new option for the SFM-AT800 and the SFM-AT1000-S post-processing stations. Existing SFM-AT800-S systems can also be retrofitted upon request. The company says it is already working with two “leading manufacturers” concerning process integration.

Alexander Bauer, Application Manager at Solukon, summarised: “The Solukon Digital Factory Tool marks a significant step towards automation in post-processing and therefore towards integration into a holistic AM process chain. Especially through process validation in one comprehensive protocol our customers achieve an even faster, more accurate and easier certification. The Solukon Digital Factory Tool is especially applicable to sensitive industries like Aerospace and Medical.”