Although Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM), a powder bed fusion (PBF) Additive Manufacturing (AM) for metallic materials, provides many advantages over conventional manufacturing such as almost unlimited design freedom, one of its main limitations is the need for support structures beneath overhang surfaces. Support structures are generally in contact with overhang surfaces to physically prop them up; therefore, they need to be removed after manufacturing due to not constituting a part of the main component design. The removal of supports is a process sequence adding extra time and cost to the overall manufacturing process and could result in damaging the main component. In this study, to examine the feasibility of contact-free supports for overhang surfaces in the DMLM process, coupons with these novel types of supports were prepared from CoCrMo alloy powder. This study aims to understand the effect of two parameters: the gap distance between supports and overhang surfaces and the inclination angle of overhang surfaces, on the surface topography and microstructural properties of these surfaces. Visual inspection, roughness measurements, and optical microscopy were utilized as characterization methods The roughness parameters (Ra, Rq, and Rz) were obtained using the focus variation method, and optical microscope analysis was performed on the cross-sections of the overhang surfaces to investigate the sub-surface microstructure and surface topology. Results showed that contact-free supports have a positive effect on decreasing surface roughness at all build angles when the gap distance is correctly set to avoid sintering of the powder in between the overhang and supports or to avoid too large gaps eliminating the desired effect of the higher thermal conductivity.
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