Support structures are a necessary evil of 3D printing. In a paper entitled “Support Structures for Additive Manufacturing: A Review,” a group of researchers take a close look at supports and their various forms and functions, and evaluate some of the research that has been conducted on them already. In the study, the researchers take a look at other publications that have been dedicated to 3D printing support structures, and find that the majority of them are focused on FDM 3D printing, rather than metal 3D printing processes. “The reason for this is most probably because of the unavoidable and higher requirement of support in FDM, and the popularity of the printing technique,” the researchers state. “FDM needs material beneath the printed layer as it is extrusion-based, while for powder processes, the powder could take the role of support. In addition, the unused powder which acts as the support can be reused, to an extent, in the future. However, the supports fabricated in extrusion-based processes are generally unable to be reused, unless the supports are re-manufactured into filaments. For powder bed processes, the support material is generally for ameliorating against thermal stresses during manufacture and to anchor the printed part within the build volume.” Support structures are unavoidable in many 3D printing processes, the researchers conclude, but more effort should be made to minimize the negative effects of supports. “Support structure modeling needs to be adopted in the future, especially for metal processes. Further, a standardized model and uniform criteria need to be made in the future for fairly comparing different support methods and choosing the most economical strategy. Lastly, topology optimization is necessary to be integrated into support structures for further reducing materials used, making AM a more sustainable technology.”

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