There are no fundamental processing differences between laser-based powder bed fusion systems, yet not all machines are created equal. So how do choose and invest in the right equipment? In the first part, we listed what you should be looking for in the hardware equipment. In this second part of a 3-part series, we review different functional and maintenance aspects.
- Hardware operability, maintenance facility and the ease to retrofit optional add-ons;
- Software usability and upgrades frequency;
- Processing parameters development;
- Health and safety.
How user friendly is it to operate?
How much time does it take to turn the machine around? How easy and safe is it to ‘debuild’ (= remove) a heavy component that entirely fills the build chamber? Are there ancillaries planned and tested for this scenario? How many operators do you need? Is this a process that has been thought through?
Are the powder reservoirs big enough to enable a complete full-volume build? If not, how easy is it to top it up during process? Will your engineers need to come back at 2am to add some powder and nurse the jobs to completion? Can you do it at all or do you have to stop the process altogether and open the build chamber to access powder reservoir and build? Hence contaminating the working environment with ambient air? Is it really something you can afford to do with your products?
Do you have to stand by each machine to monitor the manufacturing of various components or can one engineer easily monitor the vitals of the machine in real time, from their office?
How easy is it to learn how to use it?
How easy and safe is it to change material?
Now, don’t get me wrong, it can be done to a sensible extent. But it takes time to clean properly and to prevent cross batches contamination. Assume a certain – minimal – amount of powder will remain in the system and accept it will dilute itself in the next batch anyway. If you are happy with that, brilliant.
Open parameters and parameters development process
- fully open option with full access to all the parameters (up to 150 of them); this gives you complete freedom to tailor the process features;
- fixed parameters for given compositions, typically hidden and locked to prevent meddling and errors;
- or both, where you have access to standard parameters for a given composition and where you can also tweak these parameters (or create from scratch) to vary properties for your specific components.
Provided with the machine or bought as add-ons, it is worth asking what the guarantees surrounding these parameters are in terms of production performance and products quality
Health & safety
What are the procedure in place to contain powder leakage? Has the supplier ‘fool-proofed’ powder handling? What are the risks? Are there clear procedure in place to change filters full of inflammable condensate, to sieve or compartmentalise pure condensate coming out as a sieving by-product. How do you go about cleaning the chamber of the soot, reactive condensates and spatter produced during the process? How much waste is there ?
Upgrades and retrofits
Running costs and consumables costs?
What about the ancillaries such as recoating blades, filters units, sieving stations? Are they proprietary, expensive, easily accessible, customisable and/or included as part of optional packages?
After sale and customer service
 M.M. Francois et al. Current Opinion in Solid State and Materials Science 21 (2017) 198–206
 T. DebRoy et al. Progress in Materials Science 92 (2018) 112–224