08 March 2021

Automating post-production to scale up additive manufacturing

It is no exaggeration to say that additive manufacturing (AM) has revolutionised the way that products are designed, manufactured and distributed.

Unshackled from the limitations associated with traditional production processes, AM has made the leap from prototype to end-part production, and continues to open up exciting opportunities around localised production, digital inventories and on-demand manufacturing. 

Yet, despite the technology’s many advantages, post-production remains a labour-intensive and costly process that presents a major barrier for companies looking to scale up their AM operations. We caught up with Stefan Rink, CEO of AM-Flow, who explained how advances in post-processing software and hardware mean that this is finally about to change, and how this will, in turn, enable 3D printing finally to become a fully digital, fully connected part of the factory of the future. 

Can you start by giving our readers a quick overview of who AM-Flow is and what the company does? 

We provide an end-to-end digital manufacturing solution that enables 3D print producers to automate AM post-processing. Or, to put it another way, we allow companies to create a truly automated 3D printing workflow. 3D printing is a highly automated process – right up until the point when the print leaves the machine. After that, everything else, from picking and sorting to packing, is done manually. That is highly inefficient, expensive and leaves processes vulnerable to human error. Our solutions enable companies to address these challenges and will, we believe, finally enable 3D printing to deliver on its promises of the last decade.   

That sounds logical. Yet, many companies have been using 3D printing, whether to produce prototypes or end-use parts, for years. Why are they only thinking about post-production now? 

Most AM production environments have grown organically. Companies have been focused on the printing technology, adding new printers and expanding their use of materials as required, rather than concentrating on the overall production process. We expect that the use of 3D printing is only going to increase, and as it does so, labour costs will rise exponentially. That is simply not viable for companies looking to scale up 3D print production, and so they must find a way to automate the process. We, therefore, expect to see companies move away from investing predominantly in printing technology, to investing in the overall production workflow. Read the full article in the March issue of DPA.