The Factories of the Future Could Feature 3D Metal Printing

The simulated line door’s parts (doors) prepared for installation at automotive plant.

By Staff Reports

(Victor Valley)– Factories made the Industrial Revolution possible. But as much of a technological marvel as they were when they arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries, factories have limitations that are obvious in the 21st. For example, as a recent article in WIRED points out, factories are not “reprogrammable”—to make different products, a factory must retool with different machines, so that innovation is hobbled by the need for capital expenditure and is never rapid.

The WIRED article also points to the rise of 3D metal printing, both as a potential mainstay of factories and as a component of a new Industrial Revolution—one that has the potential to integrate a substantial new measure of flexibility into how industrial parts are manufactured.

“As exciting as this technology is, it will not achieve its true potential unless quality control (QC) can be integrated more efficiently into the process,” says John R. Rice, CEO of Sigma Labs. “The overarching goal is to enhance the accuracy of 3D-printed metal parts to approximately 90 percent or more. The advent of innovative software, which can supply real-time feedback to a manufacturer while a part is made, can help achieve this objective. By achieving an advanced understanding of quality variation for 3D metal printing that the factories of the future require, it is possible to bring the future to the present.”

Sigma, which has 18 patents applied-for with 17 still pending, is helping to enhance the consistency and high quality of 3D printed metal parts by focusing on the “melt pool”—the material being formed into the final part. Ideally, the melt pool maintains a certain constant temperature no matter what the geometry or configuration of the part is. By calculating a metric known as Thermal Emissions Density™ (TED™) during manufacturing, the laser’s temperature can be modified at every stage. Doing so holds the potential of significantly improving the percentage of usable 3D metal parts created by reducing the rejection rate significantly.

These considerations have been integrated into Sigma’s INSPECT™ 2.0 software, a web-based application designed for seamlessly integrating data analytics with all metal 3D printing applications. For manufacturers that have already taken the first step in monitoring the printing process, Sigma Labs’ software provides access to powerful data analysis tools and baseline comparison technology. It enables plots of live heating rate, cooling rate and peak temperature; live In-Process Quality Assurance™ (IPQA®) plots; part-by-part analysis of each layer; and also exhibits a strong correlation to post-inspection quality metric data.

This latest development complements Sigma Labs’ development of a proprietary, patent-protected, physics-based quality assurance software suite called PrintRite3D® that transforms the 3D printing process. In contrast to traditional quality assurance that is performed after-the-fact, PrintRite3D® works in real-time during the printing process to assist manufacturing engineers in sorting acceptable from suspect components.

“A better rejection rate drives profits up and costs down while it raises the reputation of 3D metal printing in the eyes of industry sectors that are weighing the benefits of adopting it for their own needs. It also bolsters 3D metal printing’s potential as a robust 21st-century technology,” adds Rice.

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