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Ultrasonic Cleaning Options
for 3D Printed Products

3D Printed Parts

Ultrasonic cleaning is widely used to remove mold support and surface contaminants from 3-D printed parts. Ultrasonic cleaning is thorough, fast and capable of accessing complex geometries unreachable by water sprays and it won’t damage your part like manual cleaning with brushes.

Here we describe popular methods for manufacturing 3-D printed parts, then offer useful options to employ ultrasonic cleaning to ensure a high degree of cleanliness in your finished products.

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The Key to 3D Printing Success = Ultrasonic Cleaning
 

The key to the efficiency of the 3D printing process is fast, safe removal of the PLA mold support without risking damage to the ABS part. An ultrasonic cleaner is proven far faster, safer and more effective than water sprays or manual scrubbing.

Recently techniques called SLA (stereolithography) and LFS (low force stereolithography) use lasers to build the part. That said, structural elements are involved to support the construction and must be removed at completion. Surface contaminants on the finished product also require removal best accomplished by ultrasonic cleaning.

A Two-Step Approach to Ultrasonic Cleaning 3-D Printed Parts
 

Two decisions must be made. The first is selecting an ultrasonic cleaning unit large enough to accommodate your 3-D printed parts in such a way that they are fully immersed. Some examples are provided later in this post.

The second point is the cleaning solution formulation.

Cleaning solution formulations for removing mold support may vary depending on the mold support chemistry. One approach may involve a highly alkaline or caustic solution with a detergent serving as a wetting agent. Once the formulation is determined there is a fairly standardized procedure for removing mold support following the formulation directions.

Another instance, exemplified by SLA and LFS, may call for low flash point solvents classified as hazardous due to their volatility. Still others may involve high flash point solvents or formulated as semi-aqueous solutions that may contain volatile solvents.

Contact Tovatech for help in defining your process!

Options and Procedures for Cleaning 3-D Printed Parts
 

Here are options offered by Tovatech for setting up your cleaning system for 3-D printed parts.

Cleaning with Low Flash Point Solvents
like IPA

This may be the most practical solution for relatively small parts such as jewelry, dental implants and similar items using low flash point solvents. It uses a conventional benchtop ultrasonic cleaner such as the 37 kHz Elmasonic E+, P or S units with tank capacities up to 2 gallons along with an accompanying beaker kit.

In this instance you can use tap water with a surfactant such as a few drops of dishwashing liquid in the ultrasonic cleaning tank. Before proceeding further remember to degas the solution by running the cleaner for about 10 minutes without a load.

Carefully place the parts in the beaker and add just enough solvent to ensure they are fully immersed. You can also use small, fine mesh screen baskets containing the parts and set into the container. In this case the small baskets must be such that you can cover the container loosely to minimize the vapor escaping during the cleaning process.

In either case, the bottom 1-2 inches of the beakers should be immersed in the water. The ultrasonic energy will penetrate the glass walls and cavitation action will occur in the IPA solvent, thus cleaning your parts.

At the conclusion of the process carefully remove the parts which, when dry, will be residue free.

Important Note: When cleaning using this option operations should be carried out with sufficient ventilation to prevent solvent vapor accumulation.

The ventilation system must ensure that the flammable vapor cannot reach an ignitable concentration near the ultrasonic tank. Always check local fire regulations for the maximum quantity of flammable solvent that may be treated in an open ultrasonic tank.

For Specially Designed Explosion-Proof Ultrasonic Cleaners click here.

*For details see these specifications on hazardous locations.

Cleaning Larger Parts with Conventional
Ultrasonic Cleaners

For cleaning larger parts using high flash point solvents or semi-aqueous solutions you can use a benchtop ultrasonic cleaner with capacities to 7.5 gallons such as the 37 kHz Elmasonic P180H and P300H.

Note that in these instances tanks must be fitted with a plastic tub. This is a safety precaution in the unlikely event the tank develops a leak that would allow the solvent or solution to reach internal electronics.

As with the other option, exercise required precautions stipulated by your plant safety personnel or local fire regulations.

Parts to be cleaned are placed in mesh baskets and lowered into the cleaning solution. This can be followed by rinsing with clear water.

In Conclusion
 

As suggested in this post several options are available for hobbyists and manufacturers to clean 3-D printed parts. Selecting an ultrasonic cleaner, a cleaning solvent or cleaning solution will be based on the size of your products and the particular formulation used in the printing process.

Of particular importance during cleaning cycles is careful adherence to safety precautions when using solvents and aqueous solutions. We invite you to contact the scientists at Tovatech. We will be glad to discuss your operations and requirements, and to suggest an ultrasonic cleaning unit and cleaning solution best meeting your requirements.

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