Understanding Refresh Rate in SLS 3D Printing
The Fuse 1 selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer gives customers the power to create industrial quality parts while gaining more direct control over their manufacturing processes.
One feature that helps them cut costs, reduce waste, and increase efficiency is the adjustable refresh rate. Any powder left unsintered after a Fuse 1 print can be recycled and used again, creating a more sustainable ecosystem and reducing material cost. The process by which the powder is recycled is determined by the recommended refresh rate and carried out by the Fuse Sift all-in-one powder recovery station.
In this article, we’ll detail what refresh rate is, what it means for your print process on the Fuse 1 printer, and how the Fuse Sift and PreForm make powder recycling easier than ever.
What Is Refresh Rate?
SLS 3D printers are able to print with a mix of fresh, new powder and recycled powder from previous prints. The recommended refresh rate is the percentage of the new cartridge that is ‘refreshed’ with new, unused powder. For example, every user’s first print will be entirely new powder, with a refresh rate of 100%, while a print made of entirely recycled powder would have a refresh rate of 0%.
Recycling used powder is a good way to reduce waste and increase the efficiency of your process. While it is true that the lower the refresh rate, the lower the cost per part, using recycled powder over too many cycles can create a degradation in material properties. Therefore, each user needs to determine the refresh rate for each new cartridge based on multiple factors.
Choosing the Right Refresh Rate
When deciding which specific refresh rate to use within the recommended range, there are multiple factors to consider.
The packing density, or how closely parts are arranged within the build chamber, affects how much powder is left unsintered. Whatever is not sintered will then be recycled during post-processing, ready to be mixed into a new cartridge.
To ensure that there is as little waste as possible, packing density and refresh rate should be as close as possible. For instance, if the print packing density reported in PreForm is 30%, then a refresh rate of 30% would result in no excess used material. In this case, the powder that was sintered into parts would be replaced with new, fresh powder for your next print. Paying attention to both the powder refresh rate and the packing density of your prints will allow you to make the most out of your powder and minimize cost per part.
Refresh rate also impacts some cosmetic details. If powder is recycled many times, and builds are programmed at lower than recommended refresh rates, there can be surface variations on the parts. Consistently smooth surface finish and fine detail will be more repeatably achieved with a higher refresh rate.
For parts that need to have high visual appeal, fine detailing, or perfectly smooth surfaces, users should not deviate from the recommended refresh rate.
If the goal is to produce mechanically sound parts that aren’t cosmetically flawless, it’s possible to experiment with multiple re-use cycles at a slightly lower refresh rate to recycle more powder and reduce cost per part.
Case by Case
This customizable refresh rate means that users in different industries can choose the workflow that works best for them. An engineer creating hundreds of small magnet covers as part of a regular production run will have a high packing density, and can choose a higher refresh rate (more new powder than recycled) because he or she won’t have much unsintered powder left over from previous runs, so there won’t be any waste involved in creating a new cartridge.
In a different scenario, a product designer might need to only print one large item each week. The packing density is low (there is a lot of unsintered powder left around the part), and he or she only needs a rough prototype. Choosing a lower refresh rate (more recycled powder than new powder) means that they will get the material properties they need, use all the recycled powder they had from a previous print, and aren’t worried about any cosmetic issues that can be fixed in post-processing.
Recommended Refresh Rates
Formlabs recommends a minimum refresh rate for each SLS material to ensure high quality prints, every time. Customers can experiment with slightly lower refresh rates in order to optimize cost per part for their specific workflow.
The following table shows results from different refresh rates with each Formlabs SLS material. While it is never recommended to use entirely recycled powder (i.e. 0% refresh rate), users can vary their refresh rate with a deviation of 10%-20% from the recommended ratio.
PreForm, Packing Density, and Refresh Rate
Determining the right refresh rate for your workflow can be difficult, and can change over time according to the needs of different projects. Formlabs has created tools to help in PreForm, Dashboard, and on the Fuse Sift itself.
After loading a file into Preform, the software will show you a breakdown of sintered powder, unsintered powder, and estimated packing density for your job. Packing density is calculated as the mass fraction of consumed powder compared to the total powder required for the print, not the part volume. Using that breakdown, you can change the packing density, wait to add more parts to your build, estimate your cost per part, or change your refresh rate to account for more, or less, recycled powder.
Formlabs is committed to making the Fuse 1 and Sift workflow as efficient as possible, and released an updated packing algorithm to help users fill their build chambers to the highest possible packing density. In internal usage, the new packing algorithm has reduced the average preparation time for Fuse 1 jobs by 73% and saved the Formlabs Berlin print farm three hours of working time each day.
The Fuse Sift Workflow
With many traditional SLS systems, users are required to manually weigh and sort powder to the desired ratio before printing. Any gains in efficiency created by the powder recycling process are thus wasted by this labor intensive and time consuming weighing process. Formlabs created an end-to-end workflow solution with the Fuse Sift, the post-processing and powder recovery station for the Fuse 1.
After finishing a print on the Fuse 1, users remove the powder cartridge and insert it into the Fuse Sift, where it dispenses the powder cake onto a hooded work surface. Unsintered powder is sifted down into a hopper to await the mixing stage. Users set their desired refresh rate on the Fuse Sift touchscreen, and new and used powder are dosed automatically into the new powder cartridge. The mixer on the side of the Fuse Sift can then be loaded with a freshly dosed cartridge and automatically mixed, ready to transfer to the Fuse 1 for printing.
Though using a mix of new and recycled powder is not unique to the Fuse 1 workflow, Formlabs has made the process simpler and more efficient than with any other SLS printer. At each step of the printing and post-print process users can see the amounts of sintered and unsintered powder and packing density, allowing them to make informed decisions when choosing a refresh rate that fits their needs.
Formlabs recommends refresh rates for each material, but has also provided a range of slightly lower refresh rates and guidelines on how to use them appropriately. With these guidelines and the automated power of the Fuse Sift, Fuse 1 users are prepared to print at production levels in an efficient and cost-effective manner.