What is Metal Additive Manufacturing?
The direct metal 3D printing industry, also called laser powder bed fusion, metal laser sintering, selective laser melting, or simply additive manufacturing (AM), produces three-dimensional precision metal parts. The printer uses design specifications uploaded by engineers to fire a laser. The laser melts metal powder, creating a melt pool where the powdered metal or metal alloy particles fuse layer by layer to form the finished component.
Precision parts that would not have been possible even a few years ago can now be made to high standards using a wide range of metals and metal alloys. AM creates components for even the most demanding applications and industries, revolutionizing design and engineering for aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, and other industries.
The Need for Quality & Reliability
But metal additive manufacturing today leaves skilled practitioners with little to no insight into the process. Nor does it provide in-process feedback about part quality.
Companies using direct metal 3D printing struggle with quality and reliability, especially for complex parts that were too complicated for other additive metal manufacturing processes in the past.
The large-scale adoption of direct 3D metal additive manufacturing faces quality and reliability challenges:
- The machines and processes are inherently variable – machine to machine and within machine – causing variation in manufacturing and production consistency.
- The build process itself has many adjustable inputs that directly affect the ability to create a part and its final quality.
- The industry has few design rules, monitoring methods or standards for finished products.
- Ensuring consistent, repeatable quality for final production parts.
The two most common ways to certify that a part meets quality assurance standards – destructive testing and CT scanning – are expensive, time-consuming, wasteful and do not always yield accurate results.
And these quality assurance test tools can only be used after the component has been built. Highly demanding production industries where the risk can be considerable – like aerospace, defense, automobile, oil and gas and others – must be certain that their parts can withstand many usage cycles and physically rigorous environments.
The Sigma Solution: Quality Control & Assurance For Additive Manufacturing
What if there were an in process way to monitor the melt pool in additive manufacturing builds, giving real-time feedback and quality control for additive manufacturing? Process and additive metal manufacturing engineers could collect and use real-time data gathered by monitoring the metal melt pool during the build to certify their AM material and process of choice.
Now there is.
Sigma Lab’s IPQA™ technology accurately monitors the quality and reliability of additive manufactured parts by ensuring consistent quality control during the manufacturing process. This allows companies to build, qualify and certify parts more quickly and at lower cost.
Before Sigma, no quality metric existed for melt pool monitoring, the real-time quality assurance process for metal 3D printing builds. No technology existed to provide in situ monitoring or in process quality control, either.
Sigma’s proprietary software addresses the inherent challenges of in-process quality assurance:
- Eliminating the traditional trial and error approach to quality assurance for additive manufacturing.
- Manufacturers don’t just look for defects or discover them after it’s too late. We help build quality into the part. Quality cannot be inspected into the part.
- Reducing the cost associated with today’s “make-and-break” approach to certifying AM part quality by seeing and analyzing the structure of a 3D-printed part while it is being made.
High confidence in the manufacturing process. Real-time quality control. Process repeatability. That’s Sigma’s solution to the AM quality control and assurance challenge.