How to Make Light-Weight 3D CAD Models Using 3D Printing?

With the rapid increase in adaptation and utilization of the 3D Printing technology, it was about time that engineers started finding even more developments in the structures that are manufactured from a 3D printer. The development I’m talking about is to manufacture better and more efficient products by tuning the process in such a way that you manufacture comparatively light-weight models. Let’s delve more into the details.
 

Source: Fast Radius

Advantages of Light-Weight Models

The two main advantages of light-weight models are:

  • Reduction in Material Usage: As we will see later, during the design and manufacturing of light-weight models, we get rid of the excess unrequired material. This taking away of material from non-critical areas leads to a considerable amount of material savings.

  • Lower Project Costs: Since less amount of material is being consumed, it leads to lower production costs as these costs are directly proportional to the amount of material consumed.

How to Make Light-Weight Models

Now that we know the benefits of light-weight models, let’s find out how we can design them. There are two ways of designing light-weight models:

  1. Hollow Models

One of the most popular and convenient ways to design light-weight models is by making them hollow. This is a significant yet straightforward method that can, in a simpler way, be accomplished by hollowing out your digital model during CAD design. This, as we have covered above, results in two major advantages: reduced material use and lower manufacturing costs.

Some of the 3D Printing methodologies that help manufacture hollow parts are:

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): Basically, it is powder sintering based 3D Printing technology. The input 3D CAD file is scanned and sintered layer by layer by a laser. The unsintered powder from hollow regions is removed by providing an escape hole.

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)/Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF): In this 3D Printing process, the models are made hollow by tweaking the infill percentage parameter. This parameter will control the amount of material deposition in the solid volume of the part geometry. The hollowness of the material will be directly proportional to the infill percentage that you input. Lesser the infill % density, more hollow the model, and vice-versa

An Article About Making Hollow Models

  1. Lattice Structures

Source: Sculpteo

The next method used in making light-weight models is making the use of Lattice Structures. The basic problem with the previous method was that it is not very preferable from the design point of view. The concept of Hollowing takes a hit when we need to manufacture components which need to be lighter yet should be able to withstand a large number of loads. This is where Lattice Structures come into play.
Lattice Structures are basically engineering structures, which when used in your product, can make your objects lighter while maintaining strength at the same time. Lattice is simply put, a collection of repeated unit cells.

The significance of 3D Printed Lattice Structures

3D Printed Lattices play a very important role when we discuss manufacturing light-weight 3D models. We now know what lattice structures are, but let’s look at their significance:
Strengthening: The primary reason why 3D Printed Lattices are being preferred by top manufacturers is that they provide the advantage of lightness to the material, and at the same time provide ample strength. 3D printed lattices provide load resistant capability when designed appropriately.
Cost Factor: When you employ the Lattice method, you will be using less material in comparison to the alternatives. Apart that is created with the lattice methodology on an average weighs about 20%-40% of what the original solid part would weigh. Clearly, this means less material will be used and hence the cost will be mitigated.
Safeguard Products: As lattices help with important factors such as strengthening and cost factor, they also contribute to safeguarding products by providing impeccable shock absorption as well as impact protection. For example, lattices are sometimes used inside or around some electronic components in order to protect them from events like an accidental drop.
High Surface Area: Lattices play an important role in exposing a large amount of surface area in comparison to alternative part geometries of the same size. Such a large surface area exposure in a minimal space is very important when it comes to applications like heat exchangers such as those seen in large servers and data centres.

Industrial Use of 3D Printed Lattice

So far we have covered some major points that clearly point out how Lattice Structures prove very beneficial when it comes to manufacturing light-weight products. Now we will be covering some real-world applications of this methodology that have been implemented by major companies in different fields.

CASE STUDY 1: Imperial Machine and Tool Company

Source: Imperial Machine and Tool Co.

Imperial Machine and Tool Company is an Advance Manufacturing company established since 1943. Specializations include Precision Welding, Metal Additive Manufacturing, CNC Machining and more.
Imperial Machine and Tool Company has implemented the use of 3D printed lattice into manufacturing their oil and gas components for the use of downhole applications. Basically, the component in question is used for pumping fluid up and down an oil well by internal channels of a certain shape that have been referred to as “snaky”.
Lattice Structures enable this component to sustain its internal geometry while making sure of material reduction hence making it weigh as low as possible. As the requirement of material lowers, the cost factor comes into the picture and engineers can then choose higher quality material. This improves corrosion resistance and overall performance. The component manufactured using lattice is 40% lighter in comparison to the normal solid material.

CASE STUDY 2: HiETA Technologies

Source: Altair Enlighten

Lattices are not always simply repeated unit cells. In this example, we’re dealing with a different type of lattice known as Gyroid. It is actually a triply periodic minimal surface that is connected indefinitely. In some specific circumstances, these structures even have higher strength than the regular lattices.
HiETA Technologies is conducting proper research and experiments on Gyroids for heat exchange applications. As we’ve already covered in this article, lattices provide a high surface area in minimal space which in turn results in better performance of a heat exchanger.

Conclusion

While the most basic methods of cutting weight would include the selection of low weight materials, these may cause multiple problems in actual applications of your product.
Lattice Structures are being used across multiple industries to manufacture high-quality light-weight materials because of the range of advantages it comes with. I hope this article has been helpful for you in realizing the importance of light-weight products and learning about the methods used to achieve such products.
 
 
 

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