This article is the conclusion of Welding Digest's two-part series on additive manufacturing innovations. Read about the first three innovations here.

Real-time quality control

Another major advancement in the world of additive manufacturing has been the early stage adoption of in-process quality monitoring. This real-time quality control can help users of additive manufacturing eliminate waste by reducing post-process quality checks. One type of waste being actual part waste when destructive testing is performed to ensure that components made during a machine run are of acceptable quality.

Another form of waste is the wasted time that is spent carrying out destructive or nondestructive tests such as CT scans. In-process monitoring can be used for a variety of additive processes. Laser processes like selective laser melting can be monitored real-time by monitoring the laser light reflected from the pool of molten material being deposited. Odd reflections in light could potentially mean a defect or discontinuity has been created and the data can be captured and visualized for the engineering team. In non-laser applications, layer by layer photographs can be taken and artificial intelligence can be used to sort through the images and look for anomalies in real time.

New materials

Originally, one of the greatest limitations of additive manufacturing was the materials that could be used. At first, additive manufacturing was mostly limited to polymers. Now metals are able to be 3D printed, as well as glass and other types of ceramics. While many categories of materials have been compatible with additive manufacturing for some time now, recent advancements have made more material types within those categories compatible with additive manufacturing.

Figure 1: Novel materials are one of AM’s greatest strengths.Figure 1: Novel materials are one of AM’s greatest strengths.

One such example is a crash-proof aluminum alloy that was designed specifically for additively manufactured automotive components by EDAG, a German engineering firm. Before this advancement, there were difficulties producing an additive manufactured aluminum component that could meet the mechanical properties required for automotive standards. More advancements around the material science used in additive manufacturing will not only allow 3D printing to make parts with similar mechanical and chemical properties as those made from traditional manufacturing processes, but also enable new, superior materials to be made.

Safety

Although some of the risks of traditional manufacturing such as burns, cuts and impacts have been mostly eliminated with additive manufacturing, some of these risks are still involved in the process alongside some new risks. Innovations in safety guidelines and personal protective equipment have helped to keep workers safer.

One advancement has been the formulation of low emission polymers. When used for additive manufacturing, they release far fewer of the potentially harmful vapors that can be released during an additive process. The past decade also saw improvement in machine ventilation systems. Industry safety organizations such as OSHA have also continued to author improved safety specifications for users of additive manufacturing to follow. These specifications provide practices for reducing or eliminating the risks of powder inhalation, combustion, and harmful light exposure, to name a few.

References

Loughborough University – The 7 categories of additive manufacturing

SME – Making metal additive manufacturing faster