Finishing 3D Prints with Abrasive Blasting

 

Since its inception in 1984, 3D printing has steadily evolved to include powerful applications for medicine, manufacturing, aerospace and other industries. Also known as additive manufacturing, the technology offers clear advantages in cost reduction, customization, speed and flexibility.

While 3D printing is transforming the production of prototypes and intricate parts, a certain amount of post-processing improves the aesthetics, prepares surfaces for applying paint or other coating and even increases product durability. Abrasive blasting provides a quick and precise method for finishing 3D prints.

Enhanced Aesthetics

3D prints straight out of the printer often display clearly visible layer lines and marks from the manufacturing supports. These imperfections may not present a problem for prototypes used in-house during the design phase. However, for presentations or finished pieces, additional processing is necessary. Abrasive blasting provides a highly effective option.

Sanding is the most common method used to remove layer lines and obtain a smooth surface. But sanding by hand takes time, and it can prove difficult to sand intricate parts that have small holes and delicate angles.

By contrast, abrasive blasting of 3D prints can take just five to ten minutes, depending on the size of the print. Using precision nozzles and plastic bead media or sodium bicarbonate, the operator can easily reach tricky spots and achieve a uniform matte finish.

Surface Preparation

Whether the 3D print will become a prototype, a finished piece of art or a machine component, part of the post processing frequently involves coating the surface of the piece. The engineer may need to glue multiple components together, for instance, or apply a coat of paint.

Depending on the media used, abrasive blasting can roughen the surface to improve adhesion or smooth out imperfections that coating would highlight. The blasting process removes very little of the substrate and thus preserves dimensional accuracy, which is essential for complex, fitted parts.

Increase Strength and Lengthen Product Life

For metal 3D prints, shot peening modifies the mechanical properties of the metal to increase strength. The abrasive blasting process uses pressurized air to propel tiny steel, ceramic or glass beads at high speed onto the surface of the print. When the abrasive media strike the metal, the dents cause compressive stresses.

These compressive stresses actually serve to harden the surface of the metal and make it less likely to crack. The process can significantly increase the fatigue life of a metal part, meaning that the part can endure more stress cycles before it reaches the failure point. This is especially important in applications such as aerospace.

Explore Abrasive Blasting Options for 3D Print Finishing

Take advantage of the benefits of 3D printing and additive manufacturing without sacrificing appearance and product quality. Abrasive blasting provides an efficient method to increase aesthetic appeal, prepare pieces for additional processing and strengthen mechanical components.

Whether you are an artist creating one-of-a-kind pieces or a manufacturer tapping into the on-demand benefits of 3D printing, the experts at Airbrasive can help you achieve the post-processing finish you need. With 65 years of experience at your disposal, we provide you with proven solutions to your abrasive blasting needs.