Heat exchangers are ideal for showcasing the optimisation capabilities of additive manufacturing (AM), but they’re complicated to fabricate because of the multiple software solutions involved and data conversion issues. In a bid to improve their AM workflow, a US manufacturer tried 3DXpert – and it soon became the only software they use.
When additive engineer David Buschemeyer first attempted to manufacture a heat exchanger, he couldn’t load the STL file with enough fidelity into the software he had initially used for AM projects.
Buschemeyer, who is the Lead Additive Engineer at ADDMAN, an AM solution provider, says two problems came up. “Many parts that we’re printing have a lot of detailed features and we wind up with very large STL files. We could not load the file into our previous software because it was too big,” he explains. “When we made the STL less accurate, then we lost too much detail on the part by the time we got the file small enough to load it."
To avoid the need to load an STL, he used 3DXpert, Oqton’s comprehensive software for industrial additive manufacturing. 3DXpert allows him to work off the solid model, or Boundary Representation – a huge advantage not only when printing heat exchangers, but for any part.
ADDMAN is a US-based contract manufacturer with expertise in additive manufacturing, precision machining and metallurgy. The company supports customers in taking parts from concept to production offering all the tools necessary for the design, manufacture, post-processing, and quality inspection.
Buschemeyer used 3DXpert in parallel with Magics for a few years to ensure a smooth transition but now it’s ADDMAN’s primary software in Indianapolis, where they build parts on Additive Industries’ MetalFAB1, two EOS machines, and two 3D Systems’ Prox 320s. The only exception is FALO printers which come with proprietary software.
ADDMAN’s Indianapolis site produces parts across industries with aerospace accounting for the lion’s share of the business, including things like heat exchangers and intercoolers using high-temperature metals like Inconel, with internal channels.
Oqton’s integrated software for industrial AM has also allowed ADDMAN to reduce production time. “The fact that we can work directly with solid models and not have to convert to STL files saves us 10% time upfront,” Buschemeyer says. “We’ve recently done some gyroid work in a heat exchanger which we couldn’t do efficiently before.”
The history tree is another feature Buschemeyer values highly. “A significant advantage of 3DXpert is that, if a customer requests a revision to the part, we can just make that single change, and not have to redo all of our work from the start,” Buschemeyer says.
“We can import the customer’s new files, the majority of the work that we’ve done trickles through, and we don’t have to regenerate all supports or the added-on stock because we’ve got a history tree,” he says.
In additive manufacturing, it is often necessary to add stock onto the solid model (CAD) the customer sends to the print shop. The surface of an AM component is often rough and must be smoothed with CNC milling. To offset the surface layer loss, manufacturers add stock to the design delivered by the customer.
To make this change manufacturers often needed to ask the customer to edit the original CAD files. Because 3DXpert has hybrid modelling capabilities, the manufacturer can edit the CAD file themselves and convert them into printing information.
Managing components with holes is also quicker with BRep data and CAD features. To make a hole in an AM-built part, manufacturers first have to remove that hole from the original design file and drill it in post-processing. Because most printing software uses mesh files, engineers often spend more time on this than they would if they could edit a CAD file. Buschemeyer appreciates the fact that 3DXpert allows his staff to close the holes directly in the solid model.
When the Indianapolis operation was set up nearly eight years ago, under the name 3rd Dimensional Industrial Printing, Buschemeyer was the only additive engineer, and the company was providing metal AM and CNC-engineered solutions. Since then, the operation has grown into a full-service machine shop with electrical discharge machining (EDM) to produce one-offs and small-volume production of tens to hundreds of pieces of parts.
The company was acquired by ADDMAN in 2021, a move which unlocked corporate resources to continue business expansion. The site purchased three new printers and employed two AM engineers to support Buschemeyer and customers. They are now able to accept orders they previously couldn’t support and are experiencing unprecedented growth thanks to aerospace customers.
It’s precisely these customers that appreciate the traceability enabled by 3DXpert. They can look through the history of what they’ve done, something that isn’t possible when working just with STLs.
When slicing, engineers no longer need to recreate entire plates, which also saves time. They now slice, and then replicate and can quickly move parts around the plate. Finally, they can use the printability check to inform them of any extra support needed.
The slicing features shine on a laser system like the Additive Industries’ machine. They sometimes manufacture hundreds of parts and often 30 on a single plate. Once they determine the right number of plates, the parts are quick to lay out, no matter how many. The time needed for this process has been reduced from four to five hours down to 30 minutes to slice a single part.
“After switching to 3DXpert, we could take on more projects and put more engineering time into them because we have more time available. We’ve achieved a 20% efficiency increase across the board, and this is most noticeable on larger parts or bigger quantities within a build,” Buschemeyer explains.
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Founded in 2020, ADDMAN is a vertically integrated provider whose capabilities span the design, manufacture, machining, post-processing, and quality processes needed to take any part from concept to production. From space applications to racing teams, medical device manufacturers to robotic integrators, ADDMAN provides customers with value-driven engineered solutions enabling exceptional speed and value through the product life cycle, using radically innovative adaption of additive manufacturing technologies.