Nowadays, additive manufacturing is expanding with the introduction of new technologies, materials, and methods. It is transforming manufacturing from the age of mass production to the age of mass customization. The growth has accelerated over the last years as many organizations have started to integrate these technologies in their production resources.
To successfully produce part by means of lithography-based procedures, additional support structures are needed to hold overhanging surfaces. These structures are often massive, in many cases even heavier than the actual parts being manufactured, which results in a relevant waste of material and limits the eco-sustainability of these technologies.
In order to minimize the amount of material needed for the support structures, some strategies are being currently studied. One of the keys is based on the orientation in which the models are constructed. However, printing orientation has an influence on the final part properties such as: mechanical strength, stiffness, surface smoothness, printing time, to cite just a few. Focusing on reducing the material wasted, it is possible to fall into the trap of placing the model in a wrong orientation.
In the case of laser stereolithography manufacturing, when using a bottom-up process such as that of the Form1+ (FormLabs) printer, gravity is an important variable to take into account. It could be possible that, due to the orientation chosen, the supports structures are not capable to withstand the weight of the part under construction. Therefore, finding out solutions which provide a balance between minimizing the material used and between making a reliable manufacturing is most of the times a complex issue.
Consequently, in this paper we present a design strategy for improved solutions, which takes into account aspects such as: optimal constructing orientation, minimal use of material for the support structures and manufacturing feasibility. Based on designs involving functional gradients of material, structure and device density a smart distribution of material can be obtained, towards a feasible constructing orientation with minimal waste of support structures. The benefits of the methodology are illustrated by real cases of study linked to different industries.
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