Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing is the Future, but There’s a Catch
There are many benefits to the eventual widespread use of 3D printing and other Additive Manufacturing (AM) techniques. But components, parts, and tools created through the printing of metal and other high value substances are unlikely to gain widespread commercial acceptance within aerospace or other manufacturing categories without proven NDT (nondestructive testing) testing techniques.
Nondestructive Testing (NDT) During Manufacturing is a Goal
The aerospace industry’s goal is to conduct non-destructive tests during the additive process, almost particle by particle. Such processes would not only help manufacturers spot flaws, but would open the possibility that they could correct imperfections before finishing parts. This may require the industry to develop different testing for the various forms of additive manufacturing, which include melting raw materials with lasers or electron beams, or building layers of small particles into detailed patterns, many of which are only achievable using AM techniques.
Materials and Product Testing is an Established Field
Testing has long been an integral part of manufacturing, from the raw materials that manufacturers shape in a forge to the blanks that they might turn on a lathe, to the final products that workers measure and check for flaws. Many ingenious methods exist for looking inside both components and finished products, including liquid penetration, industrial radiography and electromagnetics.
While manufacturers might also apply some of these testing methods to AM, products produced via 3D printing are often too complicated to see inside with clarity, even with X-rays or electromagnetic tools. More importantly, workers can’t take the products apart for repair if something is wrong. Current testing protocols call for operators to dismember a percentage of each batch of any item so they can identify flaws in the process. But this method doesn’t guarantee that the other pieces in the batch are free of imperfections. The good news is that when NDT verification of 3D printed parts is finally ready for prime-time, manufacturers will have decades of data and best practices to leverage for benchmarking purposes.
Sikorsky Innovations is Looking for New Verification Techniques for 3D Printed Materials
Sikorsky Innovations is one of the global R&D groups focused on developing a robust approach to testing the output of 3D Manufacturing/Additive Manufacturing processes. “Additive Manufacturing will be restricted to a minor role in aerospace manufacturing until new verification techniques are developed,” according to Bill Harris, a Technical Fellow with Sikorsky Aircraft,.”As we get more and more product produced this way, you’ll need more innovative ways to test and validate product,” he said. “The time to start making this investment is now.”
As part of the 6th Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge, the company has made a statement on the types of technologies they are looking for on the path to mission critical 3d printing/Additive Manufacturing. Specifically, the challenge calls for: “Aerospace quality additive manufacturing of complex geometry with real time inspection.”
Please share your Nondestructive Testing Tech and Ideas
Real time, nondestructive testing of 3D printed materials is of strong interest to Sikorsky Aircraft. If you have tech or concepts that support nondestructive testing, please submit them to Sikorsky Innovations’ 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge. Click here to learn more about the competition and how you might compete for $25,000 in no-strings-attached funding.
ABOUT STAMFORD INNOVATION CENTER AND THE SIKORSKY ENTREPRENEURIAL CHALLENGE:
Stamford Innovation Center is working closely with Sikorsky Innovations to drive awareness and identify great ideas for submission to the 6th Sikorsky EChallenge. The current challenge is focused on uncovering companies that can provide leading edge thinking and products in critical new areas of technology including Additive Manufacturing, Augmented Reality, Sensors, and Energy Storage/Management. For more information, visit www.sikorsky.com/echallenge.