Mar 23, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center have developed a new method for interim, in situ dimensional inspection of 3D printed parts. The technique uses infrared and visual cameras to allow users to monitor the 3D printing process in real time and correct it as needed.

Quality control throughout the additive manufacturing process is incredibly important. Having your 3D printed Yoda head fall apart can be a harrowing experience; having, say, a 3D printed chair fall to pieces would be even worse. But one area of 3D printing that requires perhaps more scrutiny and quality control than any other is in aerospace and aeronautics. There are very few 3D printed objects up in space, but when they become more common, it is absolutely vital that they don’t fall apart. The lives of astronauts could depend on it.

In the interests of top-level quality control, NASA has just published details on a new inspection system for 3D printed parts. Researchers at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center have developed a novel method for interim, in situ dimensional inspection of additively manufactured parts that uses both infrared and visual cameras to monitor a 3D print job in real time. If parts do not display the requisite physical characteristics, the 3D printing process can be adjusted and corrected on the spot.

NASA says that its new 3D print monitoring technology will be especially useful for inspecting parts with complex internal features, such as fluid channels and passages, which cannot be easily inspected once the print is complete. The additive manufacturing tool could even be used to create a closed-loop feedback system that would allow for automatic real-time corrections.

It is the combination of IR and visual cameras that makes the new NASA 3D print monitoring technology highly accurate and therefore suitable for the monitoring of critical parts. According to NASA, the IR cameras collect temperature data to validate thermal math models, while the visual cameras obtain highly detailed data at the exact location of the laser. The technology also integrates certain adopted techniques used to reduce false positive readings.

Excitingly, NASA says that this new additive manufacturing technology could be applied to both metal and plastic laser sintering 3D printing processes. In both cases, the technology has been able to detect errors caused by stray powder sparking, as well as anomalies caused by stress, power density issues, incomplete melting, voids, incomplete fill, and layer lift-up.

“By monitoring the print, layer by layer, in real-time, users can pause the process and make corrections to the build as needed, reducing material, energy, and time wasted in nonconforming parts,” NASA says.

By being able to spot the geometric differences between a designed model and the actual 3D printed interpretation of that model, NASA’s new 3D printing technology offers an effective means of identifying flaws in a 3D printed object. And with zero margin for error in aerospace 3D printing applications, this kind of technology could be essential to helping additive manufacturing become a widely used fabrication tool within the field.

Advantages of NASA’s new 3D print monitoring technology

  • Robust: leverages processing techniques to reduce false positive readings
  • Flexible: can be implemented in existing systems
  • Cost-saving: reduces time, energy, and material wasted in nonconforming parts
  • Accurate: uses both IR and visual cameras for thermal and spatial accuracy

Applications of NASA’s new 3D print monitoring technology

  • Aerospace: complex injectors, internal coolant passage components, heat exchangers
  • Automotive: exhaust system components
  • Medical: orthopedic implants



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Adam Klich wrote at 3/24/2017 6:22:09 PM:

If anyone is interested in learning more about this innovative technology please feel free to reach out to me via email:

Ted J wrote at 3/23/2017 6:19:03 PM:

I was looking for more information concerning NASA's 3D printing inspection techniques but could not find any info on NASA's websites. Can you provide any links?

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