January 30, 2023

Protolabs launches new vapour smoothing for 3D printed production parts

Digital manufacturer Protolabs has announced the launch of its new vapour smoothing offering for 3D printed parts.

The post-processing technology is now available for parts printed with Selective Laser Sintering or Multi Jet Fusion technologies in commonly used nylon PA-12 and elastic TPU-01 materials. The launch is said to mark a “significant advancement” for the company’s additive manufacturing capabilities and is proven to enhance the finishing of 3D printed parts with even the most complex geometries.

Andrea Landoni, Protolabs EMEA’s 3D Printing Product Manager, said: “Whilst 3D printing allows an engineer to design and produce complex parts and is ideal for low production runs when compared to injection moulding, the surface finish of the latter is far smoother but now, using vapour smoothing, we can bridge that gap for additive manufactured parts to smooth and seal even the smallest cavities on the surface.

“This allows parts in these materials to be used for a wider range of applications that demand a very fine smooth finish for aesthetic and functional reasons.”

The process also helps to improve the mechanical properties of parts, with increased elongation at break and impact strength, whilst sealed and smoother surfaces are water and airtight, making them easier to clean. The watertight finish will benefit many applications including tanks, fluid bearing pipes and ducts, valve covers and oil sumps within the medical sector and other industrial applications.

Andrea added: “Because the finishing process is automated, it can be used for far more geometries than a manual smoothing process, which can be limited due to reaching difficult to access areas. This means that you can have all the advantages of additive manufacturing for parts and achieve a surface finish that is comparable to injection moulding.”

Following 3D printing, Protolabs transfers parts to a smoothing chamber. Under a controlled environment this heats and introduces them to a finishing agent, which evaporates and spreads the vapour across the part, causing them to melt, liquify and redistribute material to even out any rough peaks or seal small cavities.

Andrea said: “This new service forms only part of the complete Protolabs offering. We manage the entire process from initial upload of a customer’s CAD to the shipping of finished parts, and with our teams of Application Engineers – engineering experts who provide support and advise along the way – we believe we offer a service that adds real value to our global customers.”

He explained that while the technology is only available for specific materials currently, it is also being tested for use with other materials.

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