For New Way® Air Bearings, precision manufacturing has always been our bread and butter, but moving into the 21st century, manufacturing is gaining new definitions.
To manufacture no longer simply means reductive and top down, but also includes bottom up and additive, or as most of us would call it: 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing and 3D printing have already leapt from academic curiosity to industry standard within the past few years. In turn, this has allowed for rapid prototyping of new designs and even the additive manufacture of end-use-ready components for automotive, aerospace, and many additional industries.
Whether you’re printing in metal, polymer or composite, FDM, SLA or SLS, New Way envisions all the benefits air bearings have to offer 3D printing.
Air Bearings Bring Speed, Precision, and Cleanliness to 3D Printing
All the benefits that air bearings offer to traditional manufacturing and inspection processes apply to additive manufacturing. Whether you’re looking for precision, speed, size, or cleanroom compatibility, New Way has you covered!
As anybody who’s had to order 3D printed parts will tell you, there are really only two factors that influence the cost of a print: Material and time. Printing components can take hours, and if you’re printing a fully scaled model with significant infill, even days. For customers, time equals money, and for 3D printing businesses, slower print times equal lower volume.
The first major leap in speeding up 3D printing has already been taken by researchers at Sheffield and Loughborough Universities who developed a process called High Speed Sintering (HSS), which uses infrared light to bind a polymer which has been deposited onto the build platform, combining the best of SLS and binder jetting.
HHS is already demonstrating its ability to print at up to 360 dpi, and with unparalleled speed, creating parts 10 to 100 times faster than alternative 3d printing methods.
This technology is already incredible, but the next great leap may not be limited by the printing method but by how the printer itself moves.Traditional contact bearing systems are often limited to 3-5 m/s, whereas air bearings operate at an order of magnitude faster, reaching speeds of 30-50 m/s.
If technology like HHS is the future of prototyping and mass manufacturing, it isn’t difficult to see how a system built on air bearings would power the next generation of high speed printers.
While speed may be a cost concern, precision is where 3D prints are made or broken. You can tolerance your drawings all you like, but if your 3d printing method or material of choice can’t match it, then you’re out of luck.
FDM, or fused deposition modelling commonly tops out at an accuracy of +/- 0.15% or +/- 0.2mm. Selective laser sintering (SLS) improves on this, printing to an accuracy of +/-0.01mm. For end-use-ready components, layer thickness, or resolution is highly important, reducing the feeling of visible ridges and bringing your print closer to its conceptual image.
FDM can reach a layer resolution of 0.177mm and SLA bests that at 0.05mm, but what if we could do better, and what if we need to?
Because air bearings don’t need to contend with the inertia inherent to ball bearings, overshoot and positioning errors are eliminated by virtue of noncontact motion, a trait that’s making them a darling of the metrology industry.
Now that 3D printing has moved beyond prototyping and into end-use-ready components, precision is more important than ever. HHS printing is already being deployed to custom print orthopedic implants that align perfectly with the patient’s anatomy. In these instances, the higher the tolerance means the closer the fit and less chance of implant rejection and additional procedures. For cases like this, any opportunity for misalignment must be eliminated, and precision enhanced.
New Ways’s air bearings are precise enough to position the Keck Observatory’s telescopes to within 1.1 arcseconds of their target, so we know they’re up to the task of positioning the most important and delicate prints.
For biomedical, aerospace, and many other fields, cleanroom compliance is rapidly becoming a best practice to ensure manufacturing standards are met. Semiconductor wafers and satellite components are routinely built in cleanroom conditions to remove any possibility of foreign intrusion and preserve sterility, such as for spacecraft bound for other planets.
The 3D printing industry is just now beginning to investigate the applicability of 3D printing to cleanroom environments, and a recent study titled “Compatibility of 3D Printed Devices in Cleanroom Environments for Semiconductor Processing”, found that a 3D printed storage box produced as few particles as a commercially available alternative. However, “abrasion of the mechanical parts” in the printer itself generated “larger numbers of particles that may disperse into the environment.”
The ultimate conclusion of the study was that the constraining factor on 3D printers in a cleanroom environment was not the print material, but particles generated by contacting dynamic elements of the printer. Therefore stating that “regular cleaning of those parts is thus recommended, and applicability in a cleanroom environment will depend on the cleanliness constraints.”
While current printers might be unable to perform in a cleanroom environment, an air bearing printer would face no such difficulties. New Way Air Bearings recently embarked on a study to determine whether our air bearing products are ISO 14644-1 Class 3 cleanroom compliant (less than 1,000 0.1μm sized particles per cubic meter), and found them to perform even in excess of that lofty goal.
During this test, the air bearing produced only single digit numbers of 0.1μm sized particles, making them clearly Class 3 compliant and providing a strong foundation for ISO’s most stringent Class 1 category. If 3D printing wants to become a mainstay of cleanroom compliant industries, then New Way hopes to lead the way.
If you want to learn more about all the benefits that air bearings can offer to 3D printing, reach out to us so we can discuss what New Way Air Bearings can do for you!