It all starts with a 3D CAD computer file. This is uploaded onto the 3D printing system where the software verifies if the model can be successfully printed. It checks for some of the most common mistakes as to why a 3D model is not printable, such as wall thickness. If the wall of the design is thin, like those on our three Heart designs for example, this could mean that a 3D printer simply cannot build it, or that the wall would be very fragile and break easily. Any issues are sent back to the model designers to rectify, meaning a good and strong final design!
Once the 3D model goes through all of the required checks, it is then cleared for production. The 3D print production facilities we use are one of the largest and best in Europe and they contain over 100 different printing machines for all shapes and sizes of 3D model printing.
The Bailey beads are selected to be combined with other parts and sent to the printer in one big batch. Many different sized and shaped parts can be placed together in a single print bed. During this stage the technicians carefully position all the 3D models within the print zone. The direction the models are facing and their positioning influences the surface quality and strength of the final pieces. Due to the multi-layering build process, the technicians select the best position for each part to maximise the quality and strength of the final pieces. Once all the models are positioned the software then splits up the whole zone into hundreds of very thin layers, sending that information to the 3D printer, which will be used to construct the job.
The 3D printer is started up. It passes back and forth over the stainless steel powder on the bed of the machine forming each piece one layer at a time. Depending on the size and amount of parts, the print job can take anywhere from two hours up to two days, or even longer. This all depends on the complexity of the job, the materials used, the finish and size of the individual parts.
Once the 3D printer is finished, the parts are taken from the build area and are manually cleaned. The cleaning can differ depending on the technology used. For the powder-based process like Laser Sintering and Multi Jet Fusion (the processes used for all Bailey beads) the removal of any residual powder is needed.
Additional post-production processing is then undertaken depending on the required finish. For example, all the 3D Bailey beads are finished off with a mirror surface polish. All the parts are hand polished to the level you see on the finished beads before being given a final quality check.