Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) produces high strength and finished metal parts

10 March 2012: A few weeks ago I received a press release about EOS, the laser sintering company based in Germany, that got me thinking about their process. They claimed to directly produce parts, specifically knee joints, from an additive machining process that could be used in orthopedic surgery. Nick O’Donohoe, of the PR firm, the Parker Group, stated that “A sea change in medical treatment—mass customized, patient-specific care devices—will be evident at this years’ American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) meeting. There, EOS and its customers are displaying all types of innovative, high-quality orthopedic products that excel in effectiveness, fit, and comfort.”

Of course, from my years in the industry I knew quite a lot about additive manufacturing, but naively assumed it only produced low temperature and low stress capable plastic type parts.

After a little research into the background of laser sintering I was surprised to learn EOS’ laser sintering can produce parts made from chromium steel and even titanium! The difference between the melting points between plastic and these metals was several thousand degrees. I was determined to find out how this was done.

I scheduled a call with Andy Snow, Regional Director at EOS of North America. I have attached a summary of call below. But first, I had to learn a bit about powder metallurgy and high power lasers.

How it works

Basically it works similar to an SLS (stereo-lithography) additive machining process. A laser is directed to the material and it solidifies the material. In this case the material is powdered metal and the laser is high powered enough to fuse the metal in its beam area to a depth of 20 microns (typically SLS systems solidify plastics at an 120 to 200 micron depth). The elevator is lowered 20 microns, powdered metal is swept over the previous layer and the process repeats, of course with the laser beam directed to the precise locations based on an original CAD converted model.

Other similar technologies include laser sintering and electron beam welding. It is left to the reader to examine these alternatives for their particular requirements.

Conclusion

While EOS DMLS systems are pricey ($600K+) compared to plastics additive manufacturing, the choice using of high strength metals directly in this process offers the users a final product ready  for use, possibly after some clean-up such as polishing. In addition, certain geometries possible with additive manufacturing, such as internal channels, can be machined no other way. See the references below for additional links.

Disclosure:

No compensation of any sort was provided for this article.

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An interview with Andy Snow, Regional Director at EOS of North America

RAY: EOS has a unique approach with its direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). I am interested in the strength of the materials and finishing process and what’s required to produce a finished product? Can with start with a discussion of orthopedic knee replacements?

ANDY: Traditional knee replacement devices are made using a casting process. Our EOS produced parts are far better than cast materials, which need secondary machining and polishing.

RAY:  Does your final product also need additional machining operations?

ANDY: Yes, for orthopedic devices intended for implants, which need porous surface for orthopedic implants.

RAY: Porosity; does powdered metallurgy need binders?

ANDY:  Not in DMLS (direct metal laser sintering), as opposed to traditional sintering process.

RAY: I read that EOS systems melt Titanium. Is this true?

ANDY: Yes pure Titanium.

RAY:  What does a system cost?

ANDY:  $600k to 750K USD, depending on what materials you need to process.

RAY: Does titanium-sintering cost more?

ANDY: Not necessarily. It depends mostly on if there is a need to process multiple metals.

RAY:  Does the operator just dump a pail of powdered metal in the hopper and go?

ANDY: The input is powdered metal. It works similar to a stereolithography process – growing geometry layer by layer by heat from laser. Layers for our metal process can be 20-80 Microns depending on alloy. Plastics typically are thicker and 100 to 150 microns per layer.

RAY: EOS machines are slower?

ANDY: Yes

RAY: How slow? What are some example build times?

ANDY: It is geometry dependent. For example, a quantity of 16 54 mm acetabular knee cups take about 16hrs to build. The same builds in plastics might be six times faster. Of course plastic cannot directly be used for knee cups. However, patient specific drilling guides are often built in plastics. VisionAire is one trade name. [You can find out more at http://global.smith-nephew.com/us/patients/ABOUT_VISIONAIRE.htm%5D

RAY: How is this better than selecting from a suite of fixed knee cup sizes, as is most often done today?

ANDY: A custom product matches the bone geometry exactly. Thus there is a better fit.

RAY: What are the cost aspects as compared to mass-produced parts?

ANDY: The patient match is better because operating room expense is less because easier to install.

RAY: Are there any special environmental requirements?

ANDY: Nothing special is required, except within the EOS machine for specific metals. The EOS machines are typically in a machine shop at the OEM.

RAY: Does the metal sintering use a co2 laser?

ANDY: Plastics additive manufacturing uses CO2. DMLS uses Diode pumped fiber optic laser, 200W or 400W

RAY: what about finishing?

ANDY: Detail finish out of metal is better due to laser spot size; layer difference, and material particle size. Plastic 60 microns, metal 20 microns. Metal can use even smaller particle size because it’s heavier. Company is exploring micro laser sintering of 1-5 microns.

RAY: what other industries use this DMLS technology?

ANDY: Aerospace, especially in turbine designs.

RAY: Who is the competition in MLS (Metal laser sintering)?

ANDY: The competition is mostly German companies. These include SLM Solutions, Phenix Systems, and ARCAM with electronic beam technology. The DMLS acronym is only used by EOS.

RAY: What makes you better than the competition?

ANDY: Our finished part quality. We are the industry leader with 60-65% of the market share. We have a strong technical base. EOS has about 400 employees with 1/3 dedicated to R&D.

Here are some images supplied by EOS:

A laser-sintered drill guide designed to conform to the patient’s bone geometry. (Courtesy Materialise)

A DMLS-made gas turbine prototype swirler in cobalt chrome. (Courtesy Morris Technologies)

An EOSINT DMLS system laser-sintering cobalt-chrome dental copings and bridges in a batch. Each bridge can be a different custom design, based on dental data from an individual patient (Courtesy EOS)

An EOSINT M 280 direct metal laser-sintering (DMLS) system. (Courtesy EOS)

References:

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 Below is the press release that I quoted earlier:

EOS DEMOS LATEST ADVANCES IN LASERAY: SINTERED ORTHOPEDIC PRODUCTS AT AAOS 

Customization of implants and drill guides provides significant advantages to surgical teams

Novi, MI, February 2, 2012—For proof positive that laseRay: sintering is changing the face of medical design and manufacturing, attendees of this year’s American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) meeting can stop by the EOS booth (#259). The world leader in laseRay: sintering systems is showcasing a working EOSINT M 280 direct metal laseRay: sintering (DMLS) system to demonstrate the extraordinary benefits the technology offers for orthopedic applications. The evidence includes a wide range of innovative medical products and prototypes used for instrumentation as well as spinal, joint, and cranial surgeries. The show is being held February 8-10 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco (California).

“An entire new world of orthopedic treatment and procedures has opened up,” says Martin Bullemer, EOS manager for medical business development. “Because our laseRay: sintering systems can cost-effectively manufacture any imaginable geometry, and any variation on it, they are changing the way we think about medical products.”

Laser sintering is an additive manufacturing process involving next-to-no tooling, molding or machining costs. As a result, devices can be economically mass-customized to conform to the requirements of individual doctors or patients. Orthopedic suppliers use DMLS and plastics laser sintering to create a diverse array of drill guides, clamps, implants, and surgical instruments.

EOS-related activities at the AAOS meeting include:

  • EOS customers C&A Tool (booth 4017), Morris Technologies (booth 359), and Oxford Performance Materials (booth 2821) are exhibiting laseRay: sintered products and prototypes. C&A and Morris both focus on DMLS, while Oxford Performance Materials uses the EOSINT P 800 with high-performance polymers to manufacture customized medical implants.
  • Highlights from WITHIN Technologies Ltd include their FEA/CAD optimization software that works with EOS’ plastic and metal laseRay: sintering systems to create strong, lightweight parts including innovative lattice structures.
  • FHC is exhibiting its new line of patient-customized stereotactic fixtures for cranial targeting. The new fixtures are more accurate and comfortable for the patient than standard stereotactic frames and are suitable for a broad range of head types, and for targets not easily reached with a traditional frame. They also reduce operating room times for the procedure by as much as two hours.

“Many surgeons and medical designers are only just now becoming aware of the breadth of applications made possible by this manufacturing technology,” says Fred Haer, CEO of FHC. “The laseRay: sintered products on display at this meeting are at the forefront of a revolution in personalized patient care.”

About EOS

EOS was founded in 1989 and is today the world-leading manufacturer of laseRay: sintering systems. Laser sintering is the key technology for e-Manufacturing, the fast, flexible and cost-effective production of products, patterns and tools. The technology manufactures parts for every phase of the product life cycle, directly from electronic data. Laser sintering accelerates product development and optimizes production processes. For more information visit www.eos.info

Does SIRI signify a common CAD UI for the future?

I think, after using it on my iPhone 4S for a few weeks that the answer is definitely YES. And, this is especially true for CAD applications. All CAD apps require a complex series of user interactions, usually performed in a rigid manner to proceed through the process. How nice would it be to just speak what you want done and actually have the computer do the dirty work of interpreting the commands?

Just think. No more menus needed. No more searching multiple menu windows for the precise command needed. No more focusing in on tiny graphics on commands. No need to worry about sequencing the command.

On my iPhone I can just say “make an appointment with Bob for tomorrow at 2:00.” not too different than “draw an infinite horizontal line tangent to circle A” when Siri needs more info it asks for it. In my query above it might say “do you mean Bob Albert, Bobby Jones, or Bob Smith?” How cool is that?

I suggest vendors immediately get busy finding smart speech recognition software.

What do you think?

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Mars Science Lab: Rover Tether Landing

3 Dec 2011: In my blog reviewing the Siemens NX CAE Meeting I mentioned a conversation I had with Kendra Short of JPL about how the rover will land on Mars. Today I found this picture simulating how this will be accomplished. I thought you night appreciate the engineering embodied in the MSL to accomplish this.

MSL Landing; Courtesy of NASA/JPL/Caltech via AP

The platform holding the rover is called a Sky Crane. It first will need to separate from the spacecraft after it reaches Mars orbit. We will know more in about 8 months from now, when the landing is scheduled.

You can learn more at http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

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Autodesk 360 and Nexus – PLM 1.0: not perfect – but a great start

3 Dec 2011: Errata. I was incorrect in stating that Buzzsaw was a local PDM vault for AEC/BIM. Several people have written me about this, one being Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk. Bodnar stated that “Vault is the on-premise DM solution for both industries, whereas Buzzsaw is cloud-based and is also built on Autodesk’s Cloud, and is intended for design file collaboration between partners/suppliers and other users and does, in fact, have bi-directional push/synchronization with Vault)”

1 Dec 2011: I am on my way back from Las Vegas, where AU 2011 was held. The highlight of the event, at least for me, was the announcement of what I am calling Autodesk PLM 1.0. The announcement was not a well-kept secret, but the content of the announcement was closely held.

Monday’s media day preceded the conference. The actual PLM announcement came late Tuesday morning. Carl Bass retracted his oft quoted remark about PLM not being something customers worried about; instead, it was revised to mean “until the technology was right.” I couldn’t agree more with his reasoning. Most of Autodesk’s competitors PLM systems offer expensive, difficult to use, and almost impossible to install PLM systems, that rarely have met expectations. Even then, it is often at the cost of massive consulting assistance, rarely meeting anticipated timeframes, AND generally involves the implementation of substantially revised business processes.

Different than my analyst peers I have always been skeptical of such large and costly projects. Not being on the implementation side, I could afford to be skeptical. Many such projects, aside from basic PDM, seldom actually get implemented. Most stall. Autodesk estimates that most deliver only PDM. To test this thesis, I tweeted my followers and asked what they had accomplished. With just a few responses, this is hardly scientific. Several stated that did not yet have even PDM fully implemented!

So what was actually announced? The system is being called Autodesk 360. It is based on having locally installed PDM. For mechanical and for AEC this is Vault. Buzzsaw, a cloud based application provides design file collaboration for AEC teams. The third, and new software piece is called Nexus. The dictionary describes the word nexus as a “connector.,” and is a good description of what the software aims to do. In the following discussion I concentrate solely on mechanical PLM. For information on Buzzsaw and how it uses Nexus readers will have to go elsewhere. Try here.

Nexus is cloud based, and comes with 140 or apps. Each app looks like a series of specialized templates, along with customizable (by the user) workflow logic. Delivery is expected by the end of March 2012. No pricing was announced, however, the implications were that it would be modest. It will be sold on a per user subscription basis. All Nexus data and apps will be run in the cloud, using an ordinary browser. The mass of data will remain locally hosted using Vault. Having and maintaining Vault locally solves the issue of loading very large cloud based data while still maintaing some degree of interactivity.

How will it interface with Vault and other PDM systems? Very well with Vault. No connectors were announced to integrate with other PDM systems. Autodesk hinted that this is a good opportunity for third party developers and VARs. Connections with Nexus could be implemented via as yet unannounced APIs.

Today, the connection between Vault and Nexus is one way. CAD data cannot be sent from Nexus to Vault. Nor is it synchronized among Vaults, as is done among Apple’s iCloud apps. However, Vault data is automatically synced up to Nexus. Expect bi-directional sync in the future.

Is it easy to install and operate?

Keep in mind that my total exposure to Autodesk 360 Nexus comes from a 30 minute, main stage presentation, followed by a 60 minute working session where about 20 people per workstation watched a very capable Autodesk developer demo and responded to questions, often by showing us how Nexus would solve the proposed question.

Nexus appears to be an out of the box system. Nexus comes with predefined templates and workflows. Yet they can easily be added to and/or modified. Fields within templates (apps) can be defined on the fly and their characteristics (such as numeric, values, dates, etc.) as well. A Visio like graphic interface defines workflows. Many are offered in the starter system. A typical administration system allows assigning users to tasks and roles. Somehow, data fields can be interconnected, allowing visibility to see what drives or is driven by what.

So. There you have it. I imagine Autodesk will soon, if not already, have many seminars and pre-recorded AVI’s showing the software. Try here: http://usa.autodesk.com/360-lifecycle-management-software/

My conclusions

I think the product is outstanding. Being cloud based resolves many operating issues. Some users might question the security aspects of hosting much of the data remotely, and would do well to satisfy themselves that either this is not an issue, or otherwise. I think, that perhaps except for very special circumstances, the cloud-based security might even be vastly superior to what they could do locally. I think this is a non-issue.

Cost wise, I think this will prove to be much less expensive, long term, than most of today’s solutions. Again, this is a non-issue. Just take a look at the slide Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk, VP of Data Management, presented below that compares some costs for a 200 user deployment.

For collaboration, data can be uploaded, either in summary format, or detailed CAD files. Nexus has controls over what user sees what data.

Included are project management capabilities that allow rolling up from completed sub-tasks automatically. Defining projects involves defining sub-projects with easily configurable tasks and reporting procedures. If you have already implemented workflow as part of Vault, then is should be redone using Nexus. It allows more flexibility and better visibility.

If you want visibility by projects, by project managers and contributors, with flexibility to change workflows and processes to meet how you do business, it’s all there. My only question is how soon can I get it?

Ray with his skeptical face during AU2011 —-

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Here are a few slides from the presentation to give you an idea of what Autodesk presented. Sorry for the quality – I used my phone.

The overall concept of Autodesk 360.

Stephen Bodnar discussing their view of PLM:

Why is it called 360? Showing how the Vault and Buzzsaw make up local PDM systems:

Brenda Discher discussing why users don’t like competitive PDM systems.

What Autodesk is doing about it with Nexus.

Autodesk Takes Simulation Mobile with New ForceEffect App for iPad

If you have not yet had a chance to see how Autodesk ForceEffect works, visit http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4F9264A84AD2085B for a series of videos on how this 2D force simulation app works.

Autodesk ForceEffect, a new mobile simulation app for iPad allows engineers to quickly and easily simulate design options during the conceptual phase, and is now available on the App store. Autodesk, as it has done with other iPad apps, offers Autodesk ForceEffect for free.

ForceEffect provides an easy to use environment for drawing, constraining and simulating concepts using free body diagrams by tapping objects to select, move, rotate and scale. Real time solving capabilities provide immediate feedback on the static stress performance of a design, enabling users to use engineering analysis in the field.

Users can send the geometry as DXF files, via email, for further analysis.

It’s not quite clear how or whether Autodesk plans to generate revenue from these free apps, yet their thinking is way out in front of their competitors in exploring new ways to use mobile computing and simultaneously explore potential uses of cloud technology. It’s refreshing that the company is forging ahead, exploring new ways of delivering software and testing the waters for new paradigms, both in software and pricing models.

Inforbix $ errata, Autodesk Vault to the cloud

In my previous blog, I made an error on the pricing of Inforbix, which I have since corrected. I wanted to make sure you all have seen that correction. In the pricing example that was given, for a company of 100 persons, with 30 engineers, Vic Sanchez estimated that they might have 100K to 200K files to be indexed. The annual price for Inforbix for that size customer would be $10K to $15K. A great price range for the service provided. In fact one that is very compelling.

In the meantime it looks like Autodesk is planning to announce that their Vault will now be cloud hosted. I have no other details than some early teasers that were provided by Autodesk. It will be interesting to compare these offerings. I am planning on attending Autodesk University and will be there Monday through Wednesday, Nov 28-30. Say hello if you see me. I will report on this upon my return.

A Poor Man’s Solid State Drive

I am always on the lookout for exciting technology improvements. Today I came across an interesting product announcement from Kingston Digital, which launched a super fast and high capacity USB drive. The DataTraveler HyperX 3.0 features the fastest speeds and largest capacities that Kingston has to offer in a USB Flash drive.

Its high-speed eight-channel architecture provides USB 3.0 data transfer rates of up to 225MB/s read and 135MB/s write. Users can save time associated with opening, editing and copying large files and applications between devices. The fast write speeds also allow users to work on large files or applications directly from the USB 3.0 drive without performance lag.

Doing a little research I found out that USB 3.0 is capable of transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps (gigabits per second); that’s a little over 10 times faster than USB 2.0’s 480Mbps. USB 3.0 allows simultaneous reading and writing between two connected devices. That wasn’t possible on most older USB 2.0 gadgets and computers

256GB allows storing 10 Blu-ray Discs™, 54 DVDs or 13.5 million Microsoft® Word files pages with various formatting and basic graphics.

Last year some time I upgraded the 128GB hard drive on my laptop with a 500GB drive resulting in more weight and a battery time reduced by two thirds. Were this available then, I think this would have been a better alternative. The (minor?)  drawback is that few computers support the USB 3.0 standard. Prices start at $193 USD for the 64GB version and just under $400 for the 128GB version.

www.kingston.com