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CompactRIO & the Materialise Control Platform Revolutionize 3D Printing

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Original Authors: Stijn Schacht, Materialise

Edited by Cyth Systems

A 3D-Printed Craniomaxillofacial Implant and Model of Facial Reconstruction Surgery
A 3D-Printed Craniomaxillofacial Implant and Model of Facial Reconstruction Surgery

The Challenge

Industrial laser-based 3D printing processes have been around for many years, but the industry must tackle many challenges such as production throughput, quality assurance, and manufacturing repeatability before 3D printing can become a robust, standardized manufacturing technology.

The Solution

Materialise developed the Materialise Control Platform (MCP), powered by CompactRIO and LabVIEW, as a ready-to-start software-driven, embedded controller platform specifically for laser-based 3D printing applications. Researchers and engineers can build and improve additive manufacturing processes that are ready for industrial use to support innovation, research, and new applications in the market.

Materialise additive manufacturing and 3D printing facility
Figure 2. Materialise additive manufacturing and 3D printing facility, Leuven, Belgium. (Credit: Materialise).

Revolutionizing the World of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

Materialise’s open and flexible platforms help companies in industries such as healthcare, automotive, aerospace, art and design, and consumer goods to build innovative 3D printing applications that make the world a better and healthier place. Examples include customized implants that have helped people out of their wheelchairs, hearing aids that have enhanced social lives, or the improved designs of the cars we drive and the planes we fly in.

Titanium Aerospace Part
Figure 3. Left: Titanium Aerospace Part with 63% weight reduction.

Challenges That Prevent More Broad-Based Adoption of Additive Manufacturing

Traditional machines operate on preformed material geometries (bars, blocks, sheet metal plates, and more), but additive manufacturing starts from pulverized material (powder) or liquid material (resins). This means that in contrast with traditional manufacturing, additive manufacturing not only shapes the geometry of end products, but also defines the material properties.

Therefore, manufacturers use laser optical systems. The power and geometrical accuracy of these systems shifts as time progresses. Furthermore, like in welding, the process is susceptible to corrosion. This requires complete and total control of both the laser power, beam position, process atmosphere, and machine temperature throughout the entire build, and for some materials also before and after the build (controlled heat-up and cool-down phases). Also, the more an additive manufacturing machine is used, the quicker its internal processes deteriorate. Users mitigate this with preventive maintenance and recalibration—time-consuming tasks with a rather long machine standstill as a consequence.

When using additive manufacturing, users may calibrate the machine before a certain number of builds. A complete calibration easily consumes half a day of work by a skilled technician for a build that might take only a couple of days.

With machines that drift so quickly and have advanced complex processes, the industry is somewhat skeptical about an emerging and revolutionizing technology like additive manufacturing. Typically, users demand outstanding quality, high production throughput, and repeatability to trust this manufacturing approach to handle those elements that generate revenue for them.

We might gradually overcome challenges like throughput and increasing production capacity. With repeatability still a challenge, this could lead to accelerated production costs and more waste. However, all of this is still not as important as a potential quality issue, which directly impacts customer relationships.

Users can benefit from the Materialise Control Platform to innovate and overcome these hurdles one by one. They can tackle and reduce the typical calibration downtimes and implement an automatic process and quality monitoring and control. Users can also achieve closed-loop rates that have never been achieved before and produce more repeatable parts with higher quality, at higher volume, and at lower cost.

NI-9030 CompactRIO Chassis
Figure 3. NI-9030 CompactRIO Chassis

Using the CompactRIO Platform

We selected the CompactRIO platform as the foundation for our solution becuase it offers an extendable FPGA-based hardware platform with a vast selection of I/O. We extended the platform with a scan head and laser interfaces. We developed and added both XY2-100 and SL2-100 scan head communication protocols as C Series interface cards. Specifically, the cRIO-9030 controllers offered great advantages while running Linux Real-Time. We could port our current C developers and many of the already existing libraries to the CompactRIO system.

The CompactRIO FPGA is crucial for data analysis and interconnecting the I/O in the additive manufacturing machine. The overall process runs at 100 kHz, a 100X improvement over traditional 3D printing machines. This loop speed is hard to keep up with using regular processors. Our own scan head modules rely on another FPGA that processes the laser and scan head signals. Every MCP-based additive manufacturing machine runs at least two processors and two FPGAs, all interconnected in the Materialise Control Platform (MCP).

The modularity and openness of the CompactRIO platform is scalable for our customers. Not everybody needs two or more scan heads or numerous I/O channels. When customers need more than eight modules, they can use an NI-9149 chassis to add another eight modules in the configuration.

The high-end cRIO-9030 products include Gigabit Ethernet, IP, and USB camera support, an in-demand feature for high-end additive manufacturing machines for machine inspection. Users can monitor and intervene during the build process and reduce the high costs attached to non-destructive, post-build tests.

The additive manufacturing industry is global, so we needed to certify the MCP for sales worldwide. Having developed custom C Series modules, we validated and tested these modules ourselves, but saved significant time on all CompactRIO components due to the available global certification standards like CE, FCC, UL, and more.

Original Authors:

Stijn Schacht, Materialise

Edited by Cyth Systems

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