Editorial


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Tackling the QA Challenge

By: Brad Kuvin

Tuesday, November 10, 2020
 

Survey after survey reveal that the production of end-use parts now accounts for more than half of all applications for metal additive manufacturing (AM). With aerospace and defense leading the way, and with demand increasing for highly customizable and complex parts with minimum lead times and reduced time to market, the use of metal AM continues to skyrocket. Metal AM soon will be a $1 billion industry and is projected to top $3 billion by 2024 (per MarketsandReports).

The AM service bureau Sculpteo reports, in its 3D Printing 2020 annual report, that the use of AM for full-scale production parts continues to escalate. More than half (52 percent) of the companies it surveyed for the annual report say that they now use 3D printing for production (68 percent use 3D printing for prototyping), and more than 60 percent “see a significant improvement in cost per part using 3D printing.”

What are the potential obstacles to sustaining this growth? According to the Sculpteo survey, 51 percent of manufacturers say that quality control is their top challenge. This is nearly double the response rate for any other issue said to be challenging manufacturers, according to the survey, as they look to scale-up their use of 3D printing. When asked to describe what the 3D printing industry needs in order to sustain such growth, 62 percent of respondents cited “more reliable technologies.”

One catalyst to improving metal-AM process reliability is continued development of in-process quality assurance (QA), to prevent any unforeseen roadblocks to the productivity and reliability of production AM. Dr. Zach Murphree, vice president of technical partnerships at Velo3D, told SAE earlier this year, “Measuring mechanical integrity and detecting surface defects and porosity are vital for part quality, and every solution provider needs to seriously think about how their solution will do that.” 

Murphree pens an article in this issue of 3D Metal Printing, in which he writes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it—and controlling as much of the 3D-printing process as possible directly relates to end-product quality… Next-generation AM systems go beyond just reporting such data by providing integrated, in-situ process metrology to detect individual meltpool instabilities. They then can enable closed-loop energy adjustments in real time during the build.”

Another article in this issue, from Sigma Labs, specialists in providing real-time analysis of the melt pool for in-process control and QA during AM, describes how researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Texas A&M University have developed a process for predicting the formation of subsurface porosity.

Companies such as Velo3D and Sigma Labs now offer technology that allows real-time monitoring of machines and builds as parts are being made. “Our hardware/software package is observing and assessing what is going on in there, and we are able to extract from thermal information when a part is beginning to drift out of specification,” said Sigma Labs president and CEO John Rice in an interview with NetworkNewsAudio late last year. “We can spot the precursors of a quality problem. We can alert the machine operator, who can stop it and make a correction and save the part and very often save the build.”

With the in-process QA challenge in sight, the metal-AM industry is ready to blossom. The potential is staggering.

 


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