The support structures required in many forms of additive manufacturing are often seen as waste that is tolerated as necessary. In metal additive processes, cost is frequently reduced by minimizing the amount of support structures needed to produce a part so that in turn, material use is decreased. However, there still exists the challenge of generating parts that are not deformed by the stresses created in the process. In this case study, support structures were leveraged to address deformation. A part was printed via direct metal laser melting with supports with a high grouping density in areas of high anticipated deformation in order to stiffen the part to prevent deformation. Then, they were printed again with a low grouping density to allow the part to relax and reduce stress. Combinations of support strategy and leaving supports on during post processing were used to investigate the effects of keeping or removing the supports in post-print operations such as surface treatment. The two optimized support strategies saw a lower deformation than the baseline approach to supports, and the releasing strategy was closest to the reference solid model with a 26% reduction in average deformation. The results suggest that the support structures in additively manufactured parts have a different impact on the part than the original intent of the supports to simply alleviate a process requirement. The support structures should be used to impact the final part geometry.

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