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Sigma Labs, Inc.
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New Technology Brings Real-Time Process Monitoring to 3D Printed Metal Parts
With designs to reduce manufacturing expenses and virtually eliminate costly post-manufacturing inspections, Sigma Labs, Inc. has recently launched PrintRite3DTM, a new suite of software and hardware aimed at 3D printed metal parts.
Having recently entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cincinnati-based Morris Technologies, Inc. (GE Aviation has since acquired Morris Technologies), Sigma Labs plans on bringing real-time monitoring to customers of additive manufacturing (AM) for metal parts. "It is highly desirable to have a method by which you can verify the build integrity as you build it up layer by layer, so that you don't have to wait until the end and do some kind of other inspection technique," said Sigma Labs Vice President Vivek Dave, adding that some metal parts may be so complicated and geometrically intricate that post-production inspection can't effectively be used to verify build integrity.
Dave said PrintRite3D is the answer to AM customers who primarily need a way to improve process reliability, process repeatability, and quality assessment. "It would certainly be very advantageous to have this in-process evidence of build quality as you're going through the whole process of qualifying a part and approving it for its final use," he said. "And that's really important, especially in highly-regulated industries like aerospace and biomedical, where you're dealing with outside regulatory agencies like the FAA or FDA."
Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Sigma Labs (www.sigmalabsinc.com) is negotiating a joint venture with Morris Technologies "primarily because Morris is the largest provider of AM metal parts and, right now, they are the furthest along with their technology growth," said Sigma Labs President Mark Cola. "PrintRite 3D seems to be an enabling technology to get them through the next set of hurdles." Morris Technologies is working at the leading edge of AM and 3D printing and is recognized worldwide for pioneering the manufacture of critical metal parts from CAD using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).
"Metal additive manufacturing and 3D printing is a rapidly growing market that is revolutionizing the way manufacturing is presently conducted," said Greg Morris, CEO of Morris Technologies, in a statement. "By exploring a potential joint venture arrangement with Sigma Labs, we seek to build upon our solid reputation for high quality and to further extend our leadership and competitive position as a trusted manufacturer of metal AM parts for even the most critical of applications."
Much like the "Intel Inside" model for laptop computers, PrintRite3D technology could be incorporated into every metal AM platform, said Cola, adding that the software and hardware suite meets the demands of rapid growth in the AM metal parts industry.
Terry Wohlers, a noted 3D industry analyst, said 3D printed metal parts have "gained traction during the past couple of years" and are growing more briskly than plastic parts. "There's just a lot more activity around metals in medical, aerospace, and orthopedic," he said. Aerospace companies are hard at work qualifying materials and processes and certifying new designs. Medical companies in Europe are using AM to produce metal orthopedic implants in the tens of thousands. Metal products for consumers are also being produced by additive manufacturing. A lot of resources are being put into process and materials and into qualifying and certifying designs. "It's now faster, better, and less costly," Wohlers said of the manufacturing of metal 3D printed parts.
Additive manufacturing as a whole grew by 29.4 percent last year in total revenue for products and services. Sales of metal AM machines grew 33.6 percent from 2010 to 2011. Additive manufacturing was a $1.71 billion industry for 2011 and is forecasted at $2.1 billion for 2012, $3.7 billion for 2015, and $6.5 billion for 2019, Wohlers said.
The PrintRite3D suite of offerings currently includes Inspect software, which verifies quality layer by layer; the Sensor Pak auxiliary hardware kit that collects data on the AM machine and drives the software; and Deform software, which predicts distortion and calculates the pre-shape that results in the right final shape. It also includes Thermal software, which predicts the thermal profile of the part. Cola said Sigma Labs has relationships with several large end users who have validated the PrintRite3D Inspect and Sensor Pak concepts, as well as a contract with Honeywell to demonstrate PrintRite3D Inspect technology as part of a DARPA-funded effort.
The PrintRite3D will essentially enable production of higher-quality 3D printing of metal parts for critical applications, such as in aerospace, defense, oil and gas, and biomedical markets, said Dave. "It would contribute to reducing inspection costs, streamlining production, and essentially, there would be a tremendous advantage in guaranteeing you've got the right part coming off the machine and maybe you don't have to do post-process on everything," Dave said.
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