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Title:
OBJECT CLEANING
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2021/061167
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
According to one aspect, there is provided a method of cleaning a 3D object on a platform. The method comprises generating with a cleaning module a cleaning airflow to remove powder particles from a 3D object and an extraction airflow to extract any removed powder particles, determining a quantity of powder particles in the extraction airflow, and moving the cleaning module relative to the platform based on the determined quantity of powder particles.

Inventors:
DIOSDADO BORREGO JORGE (ES)
CARBONELL VILAPLANA BERTA (ES)
MANSELL RHYS (ES)
Application Number:
US2019/053761
Publication Date:
April 01, 2021
Filing Date:
September 30, 2019
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
HEWLETT PACKARD DEVELOPMENT CO (US)
International Classes:
B08B5/02; B08B5/04; B22F3/10; B29C64/35; B33Y40/00
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WOODWORTH, Jeffrey C. et al. (3390 E. Harmony RoadMailstop 3, Fort Collins Colorado, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A system for cleaning a 3D printed object, comprising: a platform to receive a 3D printed object to be cleaned; a cleaning module comprising an output port to direct a first airflow from an airflow source to a 3D printed object on the platform and an extraction port adjacent to the output port to direct a second airflow comprising powder particles removed by the first airflow to a vacuum source; a sensor to measure a quantity of powder particles removed by the second airflow; and a controller to control relative movement between the cleaning module and the platform based on the measured quantity of powder particles. 2. The system of claim 1 , wherein the platform is a moveable platform to move

3D objects placed on the platform through a cleaning zone of the cleaning module, and wherein the controller is to: control the first airflow source to generate the airflow at a first predetermined flow rate; control the vacuum source to generate the second airflow at a second predetermined flow rate; control the platform to position a first portion of a 3D object within the cleaning zone of the cleaning module; and control the platform to move an object on the platform through the cleaning zone at a speed based on the determined quantity of powder particles in the second airflow.

3. The system of claim 1 , wherein the platform is a moveable platform to move 3D objects on the platform through a cleaning zone of the cleaning module, and wherein the controller is to: control the first airflow source to generate the airflow at a first predetermined flow rate; control the vacuum source to generate the second airflow at a second predetermined flow rate; control the platform to position a first portion of a 3D object within the cleaning zone of the cleaning module; and control the platform to move an object on the platform through the cleaning zone in a series of discrete steps based on the determined quantity of powder particles in the second airflow.

4. The system of claim 1 , wherein the cleaning module is height adjustable, and wherein the height of cleaning module is changeable based on a determined distance between the cleaning module and a portion of an object on the platform.

5. The system of claim 1 , wherein the cleaning module is an air knife to generate a narrow high-speed laminar air flow within the cleaning zone.

6. The system of claim 1 , wherein the sensor is a charge sensor to detect a quantity of metal powder particles or is a light-based sensor to detect a quantity of plastic powder particles in the second airflow.

7. The system of claim 1 , wherein the cleaning module is configured such that a cleaning zone of the cleaning module is orientated at angle between about 20 and 50 degrees towards the leading edge of a 3D object as it moved by the platform.

8. The system of claim 1 , wherein the cleaning module is rotationally orientable, and wherein the controller is to adjust its orientation based on one or more of: the geometry of the portion of the 3D object being cleaned; and a predetermined rotational sweeping movement.

9. The system of claim 1 , wherein the cleaning module comprises one of: a pair of extraction ports that sandwich between them an output port; and an extraction port that surrounds the output port.

10. A method of cleaning an object on a platform, comprising: generating with a cleaning module a cleaning airflow to remove powder particles from a object and an extraction airflow to extract any removed powder particles; determining a quantity of powder particles in the extraction airflow; and moving the cleaning module relative to the platform based on the determined quantity of powder particles.

11. The method of claim 10, wherein moving the cleaning module relative to the platform comprises controlling the speed of the relative motion based on the determined quantity of powder particles.

12. The method of claim 10, wherein moving the cleaning module relative to the platform comprises controlling the relative motion in a series of discrete steps based on the determined quantity of powder particles in the second airflow.

13. The method of claim 10, further comprising modifying a distance between the cleaning module and an object to maintain a portion of the object within a cleaning zone of the cleaning module.

14. The method of claim 10, further comprising generating the cleaning airflow at an angle between about 20 and 50 degrees towards the object. 15. The method of claim 10, further comprising changing the orientation of the cleaning airflow based on one or more of: the geometry of the portion of the object being cleaned; and a predetermined rotational sweeping movement.

Description:
OBJECT CLEANING BACKGROUND

[0001] There exist a multitude of kinds of three-dimensional (3D) printing techniques that allow the generation of 3D objects through selective solidification of a build material based on a 3D object model. [0002] One technique forms successive layers of a powdered or granular build material on a build platform in a build chamber, and selectively applies a curable binder agent on regions of each layer that are to form part of the 3D object being generated. The curable binder agent has to be cured to form a sufficiently strong so-called ‘green part’ that may be removed from the build chamber, cleaned up, and then sintered in a sintering furnace to form the final 3D object.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION

[0003] Examples will now be described, by way of non-limiting example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

[0004] Figure 1 A is a simplified side view of a cleaning apparatus according to an example;

[0005] Figure 1 B is a simplified isometric view of a cleaning apparatus according to an example; [0006] Figure 1C is a simplified bottom view of a portion of a cleaning apparatus according to an example;

[0007] Figure 2 is a flow diagram outline an example method of operating a cleaning apparatus;

[0008] Figure 3 is a simplified side view of a cleaning apparatus according to an example; and

[0009] Figures 4A and 4B are simplified bottom views of a portion of a cleaning apparatus according to an example. DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[00010] To enable 3D printing systems to move from their currently generally low throughput object generation capabilities to high throughput object generation capabilities many of the currently manually performed processes will have to be transformed into automated processes. Cleaning of 3D printed objects is one of those processes.

[00011] In binder jet 3D printing, for example, successive layers of a powder, such as a metal powder, are formed on a build platform in a build chamber. A binder agent based is selectively printed on each layer based on a layer of the 3D object to be generated. The binder agent may then be cured, for example by applying heat or by applying ultraviolet light, to generate what is generally known as a green part. A green part is formed from powder particles that are bound together with the binder agent in relatively weak matrix. A green part may be sintered in a sintering furnace where binder agent is burned off, and the powder particles sinter together to form a highly dense final object.

[00012] Due to various issues, that may include issues such as binder agent carrier liquid leakage, when a green part is extracted from a build chamber there is often some volume of non-bound powder that adheres to the green part. Before a green part can be sintered, however, all powder adhering to the surface of the green part has to be removed otherwise it will become part of the final object after sintering. However, due to the relatively weak nature of green parts it is challenging to ensure removal of non-bound powder without damaging the green part.

[00013] Referring now to Figure 1A, there is illustrated a simplified side view of cleaning system 100 according to one example. Figure 1 B illustrates a corresponding simplified isometric view. The system 100 comprises a cleaning module 102 that houses an output, or cleaning, port 104 to direct a first airflow 106 generated from an airflow source 108 through a first conduit 110 to a cleaning zone 112. The cleaning module 102 also houses an input, or extraction, port 114 to direct a second extraction airflow 116, generated by a vacuum source 118, from the cleaning zone 112 through a second conduit 120 to the vacuum source.

[00014] A bottom view of the cleaning module 102 is illustrated in Figure 1C. In the example shown, the cleaning module 102 is configured as and functions as an air knife having a longitudinally aligned output port 104 adjacent to a longitudinally aligned input port 114. The length of the ports 104 and 114 span the width along the y-axis of a platform 126, as shown in Figure 1 B. In one example the output port 104 allows a narrow high-speed laminar air flow to be generated within the cleaning zone 112.

[00015] The cleaning module 102 generates, in conjunction with the airflow source 108 and vacuum source 118, an outward cleaning airflow into the cleaning zone 112, and generates an inward extraction airflow from the cleaning zone 112. The outward cleaning airflow 106 is to remove, through the action of a high speed airflow, powder particles adhered to a portion of an object within the cleaning zone and the inward extraction airflow 116 is to extract any powder particles removed by the cleaning airflow 106 from the cleaning zone 112. The strength of the airflow 106 may be configured to adequately remove adhered powder particles from a 3D object, whilst not causing damage to the 3D object. The strength of the airflow 106 may be configured, for example, based on an expected distance between the output port 104 and a portion of a 3D object within the cleaning zone 112, and based on the strength of the green part. The strength of the extraction airflow 116 may be configured to adequately extract powder particles removed by the airflow 106 to the vacuum source.

[00016] The size of the effective cleaning zone 112 may vary, for example, depending on the strength of the airflows 106 and 116, and the nature of the ports 104 and 114.

[00017] Within conduit 120 is provided a sensor 122 to determine a quantity of powder particles within the conduit 120. In one example, a charge sensor may be provided to determine a concentration of metal powder particles within the conduit 120. In another example, a light-based particle sensor may be provided to determine a concentration of plastic powder particles within the conduit 120. Although not shown in Figure 1 , between the sensor 122 and the vacuum source 118 a filter or powder particle removal system, such as a cyclone, may be provided to remove powder particles from the extraction airflow 116 before they reach the vacuum source 118.

[00018] The cleaning system 100 also comprises a platform 126 on which a 3D object, such as object 124, may be placed for cleaning by the cleaning module 102. Relative movement between the platform 126 and the cleaning module 102 may be imparted to allow the system to clean an object 124 positioned on the platform 126 in an automated manner. In the example shown the platform 126 is a platform that is moveable along the x-axis. In one example, the platform 126 is a moveable platform, such as a conveyor belt, a moveable platform mounted on rails, or the like.

[00019] A controller 128, such as microcontroller or microprocessor, is coupled to the airflow source 108, the vacuum source 118, and the platform 126 to control the operation of the cleaning system 100 in accordance with cleaning system control instructions 130 stored on a machine-readable media such as a memory. The cleaning system control instructions 130 are machine- readable instructions that, when executed by the controller 128, cause the controller 128 to control the system 100 as described herein.

[00020] Operation of the cleaning system 100 according to one example will now be described with additional reference to the flow diagram of Figure 2.

[00021] A 3D object, such as a green part, is placed on the platform 126. The object may be placed on the platform 126 by an automated system, such as a conveyor belt or a robotic arm, or by a human operator. The height of cleaning module 102 may be adjusted based on the height of the 3D object to be cleaned such that as the 3D object is moved under the cleaning module portions of the object pass through the cleaning zone 112. [00022] At block 202, the controller 128 controls the airflow source 108 to create the output airflow 106 and controls the vacuum source 118 to create the extraction airflow 116.

[00023] At block 204, the controller 128 controls the platform 126 to move towards the cleaning module 102 at a first speed. When the first portion of the object 124 is within the cleaning zone 112 the output airflow 106 starts to dislodge and remove powder particles adhered to the first portion of the object 124, and the extraction airflow 116 evacuates any removed powder particles towards the vacuum source 118. The extraction of removed powder particles helps prevent those particles from abrasively damaging the green part. The sensor 122 generates a signal, such as an electrical or digital signal, in accordance with the quantity of powder particles detected in the extraction airflow 116. In one example, the controller 128 starts the airflows 106 and 116 when the object is within the cleaning zone 112. This may be achieved, for example, by way of a proximity sensor (not shown) located on the cleaning module 102, or in any other suitable manner.

[00024] At block 206, the controller determines the quantity of powder particles in the extraction airflow 116, and at block 208, the controller 128 controls movement of the platform 126 based on the quantity of powder particles detected in the extraction airflow 116.

[00025] For example, when a first portion of a 3D object is moved into the cleaning zone 112 the quantity of powder particles in the extraction airflow 116 will start to increase as powder particles that can be removed by the cleaning module 102 are removed. Before the object is moved into the cleaning zone 112 the quantity of particles detected by the sensor 122 will be at or around some ambient level, such as for example at around 8 particles per cm 3 depending on the cleanliness of the air. After a short time, the quantity of powder particles in the extraction airflow 116 will start to decrease as there remains less powder to be removed from the green part. In one example, the controller 112 adjusts the movement/speed of the platform 126 to keep the determined quantity of powder particles above a predetermined minimum level. In other words, when the detected quantity of powder particles detected falls below the predetermined minimum level the controller 112 modifies the movement/speed of the platform 126. In one example, the minimum level could be between around 8 to 16 powder particles per cm 3 . The exact predetermined minimum level may depend on whether the sensor detects particles, such as dust particles, which are not powder particles. In this way, each portion of the 3D object is not exposed to unnecessarily long exposure to the output airflow 106 which could, in some circumstances, damage the green part. Furthermore, each object may pass under the cleaning module 102 to be adequately cleaned at an optimum throughput rate. At the same time, the 3D object is cleaned in an efficient manner without any human intervention. This is particularly useful when multiple 3D objects to be cleaned are place on the platform 126.

[00026] In one example, the platform 126 may be continuous conveyor belt and may have objects continually placed thereon by a suitable robotic or other mechanism.

[00027] In one example, depending on the determined quantity of powder in the conduit 120 the controller 128 may control the platform 126 to advance in a in a stepwise manner. For example, the controller 128 may control the platform 126 to move forward by a small distance, such as 0.5 cm, or 1 cm, or 2 cm, or 5 cm, or 10 cm, and may stop movement of the platform 126 until the determined quantity of powder in the conduit 120 falls below a predetermined level. The controller 128 may then control the platform 126 to move forward by another predetermined distance.

[00028] In another example, the controller 128 may control the platform 126 to advance in continuous manner, whereby the speed of the platform advance is based on the determined quantity of powder in the conduit 120. For example, when the quantity of determined powder in the conduit 120 is relatively high, the speed of the platform may be relatively low, whereas when the quantity of determined powder in the conduit 120 is relatively low the speed of the platform may be relatively high. Referring now to Figure 3, there is illustrated a side view of a cleaning apparatus 300 according to an example. In this example, the cleaning module 102 is height adjustable, allowing the cleaning module to be vertically raised and lowered. In the example shown, a vertical rail 302 is provided on which the cleaning module 102 may be raised and lowered, for example using a motor or a servo. A height sensor 304 is also provided to enable the distance between the cleaning module 102 and a 3D object 124 to be determined. In the example shown, the height sensor 304 is coupled to one side of the cleaning module 102, although in other examples a height sensor may be positioned elsewhere. In one example a laser or an ultrasonic height sensor may be used. By allowing the cleaning module 102 to be height adjustable enables 3D objects that have non-uniform geometries to be cleaned in an efficient manner, by automatically keeping each portion of a 3D object within the cleaning zone 112.

[00029] In a further example, the cleaning apparatus 300 may modify the strength of the cleaning airflow 106 and/or the extraction airflow 116 without adjusting the height of the cleaning module 102 to vary the size of the cleaning zone 112 based on the distance between cleaning module 102 and a portion of the 3D object 124 being cleaned.

[00030] The cleaning module 102 may be configured in numerous ways. For example, as shown in Figure 4A, the cleaning module 102 may comprise a pair of extraction ports 114 that sandwich between them an output port 104. In this way two extraction airflows 116 would be generated within the cleaning zone 112.

[00031] In a further example, illustrated in Figure 4B, the cleaning module 102 may comprise an extraction port 114 that surrounds the output port 104.

[00032] In a further example, the cleaning apparatus 300 may comprise a plurality of height adjustable cleaning modules 302 arranged in an in-line configuration. In this example, the controller 128 can control the height of each of the plurality of the cleaning modules 302 based on the distance between each of the plurality of cleaning modules and between a respective portion of a 3D object in proximity thereto. Such an arrangement may be useful when a 3D object to be cleaned has an irregular shape.

[00033] In a further example, the cleaning module 102 may be oriented at a fixed angle, such as an angle of 20 degrees, or 30 degrees, or 40 degrees, or 50 degrees, to the vertical, such that the cleaning zone 112 is oriented towards the leading portion of the 3D object as it is moved by the platform 126. In a yet further example, the cleaning module 102 may be rotationally orientable, for example under control of the controller 128, to adjust its orientation based on the geometry of the portion of the 3D object being cleaned. For example, the controller may use one or multiple sensors to orientate the cleaning module 102 such that the output airflow hits the portion of the 3D object in the cleaning zone within a predetermined angle of the surface normal of the object portion. In another example the controller 128 may adjust the orientation of the cleaning module 102 based, for example, on a predetermined rotational sweeping movement of the cleaning module 102.

[00034] Although the examples described above describe a movable platform 126 to move 3D printed objects under the cleaning module 102, in other examples the platform 126 could be static and the cleaning module 102 could be moveable along the x-axis relative to the platform 126. In other examples, both the platform 126 and the cleaning module 102 could be movable along the x-axis.

[00035] It will be appreciated that example described herein can be realized in the form of hardware, software or a combination of hardware and software. Any such software may be stored in the form of volatile or non-volatile storage such as, for example, a storage device like a ROM, whether erasable or rewritable or not, or in the form of memory such as, for example, RAM, memory chips, device or integrated circuits or on an optically or magnetically readable medium such as, for example, a CD, DVD, magnetic disk or magnetic tape. It will be appreciated that the storage devices and storage media are examples of machine-readable storage that are suitable for storing a program or programs that, when executed, implement examples described herein. Accordingly, some examples provide a program comprising code for implementing a system or method as claimed in any preceding claim and a machine-readable storage storing such a program. Some examples may be conveyed electronically via any medium such as a communication signal carried over a wired or wireless connection.

[00036] All of the features disclosed in this specification (including any accompanying claims, abstract and drawings), and/or all of the steps of any method or process so disclosed, may be combined in any combination, except combinations where at least some of such features and/or steps are mutually exclusive.

[00037] Each feature disclosed in this specification (including any accompanying claims, abstract and drawings), may be replaced by alternative features serving the same, equivalent or similar purpose, unless expressly stated otherwise. Thus, unless expressly stated otherwise, each feature disclosed is one example only of a generic series of equivalent or similar features.