Nitrogen Generators for 3D Printing Additive Manufacturing
When it comes to many industrial processes, oxidation is often considered to be public enemy number one. Additive manufacturing processes, also known as 3D printing, are no exception to this rule. Atmospheric oxygen permeates the 3D printing process and leaves behind a film that causes discolouration and poor product quality. But with the help of nitrogen generators for 3D printing, operators can avoid this problem altogether.
Purging the additive manufacturing system with nitrogen gas creates an inert environment that prevents oxidation and yields a number of positive outcomes during the 3D printing process.
How Does 3D Printing Additive Manufacturing Work?
Additive manufacturing is the process of designing and constructing various industrial, commercial, or medical parts, prototypes, and products using state-of-the-art computer engineering and a digital 3D model. Using computer-aided design (CAD) technology, 3D printer operators can create a digital blueprint or product design featuring exact dimensions. The computer-generated design elements are then fed into additive manufacturing equipment (3D printer). Upon receiving the data, the 3D printer then constructs the 3D model by layering the material with which it’s provided.
Materials vary depending on the specifications and application of the product design. Commonly used 3D printing materials include:
- Plastics (PLA, ABS, etc.)
- Raw materials (graphite, carbon fiber, various metals)
Additive manufacturing technology has revolutionized manufacturing and small-batch production operations over the past two decades. Before this technology was invented, small-batch production techniques such as moulding and casting was extremely expensive, time-consuming, and tedious. These techniques involved meticulous attention to detail that centered on grueling manual labour. It could take weeks or even months just to complete a single prototype and there was never a guarantee that it would turn out exactly as planned.
3D printing and additive manufacturing technology changed all of that. It’s a precise low-cost solution with a rapid turnaround rate. Most components, depending on their specifications, are ready in a matter of hours as opposed to weeks or months. In order to produce the desired results, however, it’s paramount to maintain consistent atmospheric and production conditions. That’s where onsite nitrogen generators for the additive manufacturing industry come into play.
How Nitrogen Helps Improve 3D Additive Manufacturing
On a large scale, 3D additive manufacturing typically takes place in an industrial or commercial facility with a multitude of inventory being constructed simultaneously. When oxygen infiltrates the manufacturing process, it can interrupt the 3D printing process by forming a film that acts as a barrier between the layers of material that are being used. This leads to discolouration and overall decreased product quality.
The Powder Bed Fusion Process in 3D Printing
3D printing powder bed fusion, also known as selective laser melting (SLM) or direct metal laser melting (DMLM), involves combining powdered metals with a heat source to construct metal parts. Varying levels of heat are used to liquefy powdered metals and fuse them together. Once they cool and harden, these components can be used for a variety of applications across different industries including automotive parts, medical system components, aerospace parts, dental appliances, and the list goes on.
The Role of Nitrogen Gas in the Powder Bed Fusion Process
Nitrogen gas is released in additive manufacturing equipment to displace oxygen and create a completely inert or neutral environment. This facilitates the construction and production of high-quality industrial and commercial components.
The same can be said for the use of nitrogen gas during the powder bed fusion process. Selective laser melting is a dangerous process that needs to be done inside a tightly sealed upright chamber to protect operators from radiation exposure. A single layer of metal powder is added into the chamber at a time and a laser is used to liquefy and mould it into the desired configuration. The component quickly begins to solidify and is lowered into the bottom portion of the chamber. Another layer of metal powder then takes its place at the top and the process repeats until the construction of the part or component is complete.
The entire chamber is purged with nitrogen gas before beginning the process. During the powder bed fusion process, trace amounts of nitrogen gas continue to trickle into the chamber to prevent the risk of oxygen infiltrating the interior of the chamber and resulting in a serious hazard.
Nitrogen is the ideal inert gas for most polymer and metal powder applications. Titanium is the only metal that nitrogen doesn’t have a positive interaction with because of a process called nitriding in which it causes the material to become brittle.
Top Industries That Use 3D Additive Manufacturing Technology
Additive manufacturing is a revolutionary, versatile, and constantly evolving technology that’s benefited numerous industrial and commercial processes. This type of model design and production is ideal for industries that use a lot of product prototypes, singular components, and small-batch or short-run production operations with custom designs. The top industries that use additive manufacturing include, but aren’t limited to the following:
- Medical field. From prosthetic limbs to medical devices, custom-fitted hearing aids, etc. the numerous benefits that additive manufacturing has for the medical appliance industry are endless.
- Aerospace components. This is an industry that requires the utmost precision in component design and manufacturing. Devices and machines used in the additive manufacturing process ensure that each component is designed and constructed to the exact specifications required for the project at hand.
- Prototyping. Prototypes usually only require a short-run low-cost production. In the old days, it would have taken significant amounts of time and labour to fashion a single product prototype or component to perfection. 3D printing can produce a product prototype in a matter of hours, which increases production efficiency and lowers labour and material costs.
What Are the Benefits of Installing Onsite Nitrogen Generators in 3D Printing?
Installing onsite nitrogen generators in additive manufacturing facilities has the following benefits.
- Lowers nitrogen costs. Generating nitrogen onsite means you’ll always have a steady supply of nitrogen. Since you no longer have to order nitrogen cylinders or tanks from a third-party supplier, this eliminates delivery and replacement costs.
- Better quality products. Nitrogen prevents product oxidation and discolouration, which means that you can improve the quality of the products you manufacture.
- Boosts productivity. You’ll always have a steady supply of nitrogen gas at your disposal, which means you’ll never be at the mercy of a missed or delayed delivery ever again.
Nitrogen Generators for 3D Printing from Advanced Gas Technologies
Advanced Gas Technologies offers a wide range of state-of-the-art membrane and PSA nitrogen generators that can be custom-designed and installed for your specific commercial or industrial needs. Contact us today to learn more about our products or to request a quote.