Ultrasonic cleaning facilitates rapid prototyping

Ultrasonic cleaners use environmentally friendly, nontoxic and nonflammable, water-based cleaning soaps and ultrasound waves to break up and methodically remove support material from 3D prototyped parts.
By Frank Pedeflous February 17, 2015

The process of printing a complete car chassis at the 2014 IMTS Show was accomplished in 44 hours. Courtesy: IMTSAccording to Gartner, the IT research and advisory company, the 3D printing market will reach $13.4 billion by 2018. Hershey’s recently unveiled a 3D chocolate candy printing exhibit at its Hershey, Pa., headquarters that allows visitors to print and purchase their own chocolate.

Two British teenagers created a wristband with a 3D printer that pauses and records live TV.

The 3D printing motto seems to be: “If you can dream it, you can build it.”

Yet, as big as the potential is for 3D printing in the consumer world, it’s also opened a whole new realm of design and manufacturing possibilities for commercial businesses. Literally, 3D printing has the ability to revolutionize manufacturing, as companies can use this innovative technology to quickly build full-size parts from a variety of materials without expensive machining processes.

Rather than being a costly, time-intensive process, product development can become a core strength and give manufacturers the ability to compete with others by more easily creating new things.

One of the most popular types of 3D printing is fuse deposit modeling, or FDM. The FDM process uses a machine to put down droplet-sized beads of a resin material onto a support material that acts like a placeholder. The resin deposits are made from the bottom up, layer after layer, and they fuse together to slowly build the form of a cohesive 3D end product. Manufacturers can digitally design intricate or complex products and produce them using 3D printing, eliminating the need for assembly.

Once the assembly is built, the mold support must be removed without damaging the actual designed part. The molds are water soluble, so dissolving one requires the proper detergent, time, and preferably some agitation to penetrate the solute as well as speed up the process. Ultrasonic cleaning naturally lends itself to efficiently and easily removing the support structure from 3D-printed parts.

Ultrasonic cleaners use environmentally friendly, nontoxic and nonflammable, water-based cleaning soaps and ultrasound waves to produce millions of microscopic bubbles per second. Energy is released by the creation and collapse of these bubbles, called cavitation, and the resultant shock waves break up and methodically remove support material from 3D prototyped parts, one layer at a time. The more complicated the part, the more effective the ultrasound is at removing the support material from blind and threaded holes.

Technicians can remove support material in other ways, including by manually breaking or cutting away the structure by hand, hand scrubbing, or using a recirculating tank style washer. However, cutting the structure by hand is labor intensive and can take many hours. Jet washing complicated parts can take as long as 24 hours to clean and has the potential to cause damage to the parts.

The engineering capabilities of FDM combined with the speed and precision of ultrasonic cleaners makes rapid prototyping cost-effective and allows manufacturers to get their ideas to the marketplace faster than ever.

– Frank Pedeflous is president of Omegasonics.