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Metal AM’s Maturity for Mass Production

 
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As Additive Manufacturing (AM) systems improve in speed and output quality, many are considering it as a method for mass production. The technology’s evolution from a prototyping to manufacturing mechanism is not exactly straight forward. The transformation is fraught with unanswered questions, ranging from the regulatory bodies’ willingness to certify AM parts for flight-critical components to the consistency of output.

Jacob Brunsberg, Senior Vice President of Product, Marketing, and Strategic Relationships at Sigma Labs, discussed these issues with DE in this podcast.

AM for mass production is already “a reality today for a number of users and large companies,” producing thousands of parts ranging “from implants to jet-engine and rocket components,” he pointed out. “That number of people, though, is not extremely high today. It takes incredible knowledge and a lot of experimental work today to understand windows of operation.”

The approach is currently limited to aerospace, automotive, and medical equipment makers with deep pockets, he noted. But, due to the flexibility of AM, the practice has also spawned parts with topology previously unimaginable. “There are lattice structures and implants for bone and growth. There’re complex heat exchangers with thin walls that are holding fluids, in some cases,” he pointed out.

In aerospace, parts with new design made with new technology are subject to stringent regulatory approvals. The more flight-critical the part, the longer it takes to certify. This is a hurdle 3D-printed parts must also face. “Creating standards and following those standards is a huge part of what is going to take our industry from where it’s at today to qualifying and certifying those components faster,” Brunsberg reasoned.

Sigma Labs provides in-process QA software for additive manufacturing. Its flagship product PrintRite3D “detects and classifies defects and anomalies real-time during the manufacturing process, enabling significant cost-savings and production efficiencies,” according to the company.

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