Making Additive Manufacturing Work

Most people are unaware; Additive Manufacturing has been around for a long time, over thirty years to be exact. Historically it has been relegated to prototyping and product development, only in the last ten years have we seen a surge in the applicability of additive manufacturing, and now, hybrid, a combination of additive and subtractive processes, becoming mainstream in many sectors.

Additive manufacturing allows designers to create new shapes that were never possible. Previously, the material removal process did not allow a machine to create complex internal geometries and the material reduction process and complex assembly steps did not allow enough reach for cutting tools. The problem with Additive was that it was always slow, and the material properties were not as good as other manufacturing processes.

Many of these limitations are a thing of the past due to the latest additive and hybrid process innovations. For example, the hybrid process is where IA machine tool can both remove and add material using a laser and metal powder, this process enables new geometries there were only ever possible using complex assemblies during the manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing is now becoming a standard process for aerospace and medical manufacturing; these industries have parts that either weigh a large amount or require a lot of customization. An example is Single Pass Jetting from Desktop Metal now achieves 100x performance, and a 20x reduction in cost compared to traditional manufacturing methods.

While most additive processes are still time consuming, most machines use a methodology called Selective Laser Melting (SLM). SLM requires that metal powder be spread, thin layer by layer, and then fused with a laser. Builds can often take between twelve and twenty-four hours, and even if one error occurs during the build, an entire part must be discarded.

One of the most exciting aspects of additive manufacturing is the automation of the engineering process. Additive manufacturing does not require a dedicated engineer to develop custom tools paths while knowing the intricacies of the machine. It becomes more effective to implement ‘as a service’ where a printer can be located with the correct material and capabilities. Manufacturers who are taking part in distributed manufacturing find that additive is much more profitable than subtractive processes since they can add additional parts to build a plate, and the incremental cost will be minimal.

As additive manufacturing is becoming more pervasive, the need for analytics is now an imperative. VIMANA provides the key to tracking and managing long and complicated additive manufacturing processes. Using analytics allows the operator to track the performance of the build, and alert them when something goes wrong. Thereby, removing the need to watch the machine for the complete duration of the build and allows for lights-out machining.

VIMANA collects a significant amount of data from additive machines, our relationship with some of the largest additive manufacturers in the world allows us to develop the core technology to predict and prevent problems before they happen and to determine when a build should stop before it fails. There still needs to be more research in this area, but we are exploring analytics concerning topics such as enclosure temperature, gas concentrations, laser power, and detecting occlusions in the powder bed.

The next significant innovation in additive and the enablement of distributed manufacturing will require a combination of advances in technology and analytics to analyze the effectiveness of the processes and to find an optimal strategy for manufacturing a product.