Jun 1, 2015

3D printing technology is booming, and spending on 3D printing is on the rise. Despite its revolutionary promise, however, additive manufacturing is still in its infancy when it comes to understanding how the new technique affects the resulting printed item. A material's physical properties change depending on manufacturing methods. Sometimes a 3D printed part has different properties and behaviors than would be expected from a part made from the same material using conventional processes.

But DARPA seeks to solve this problem. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, announced Friday that its new Open Manufacturing program aims to understand and precisely control new manufacturing processes to ensure the required degree of confidence in the manufactured product.

"Overcoming this shortcoming is necessary to enable reliable mass production of additively manufactured structures such as aircraft wings or other complex components of military systems, which must meet demanding specification requirements." notes DARPA.

"The Open Manufacturing program is fundamentally about capturing and understanding the physics and process parameters of additive and other novel production concepts, so we can rapidly predict with high confidence how the finished part will perform," said Mick Maher, program manager in DARPA's Defense Sciences Office. "The reliability and run-to-run variability of new manufacturing techniques are always uncertain at first, and as a result we qualify these materials and processes using a blunt and repetitive 'test and retest' approach that is inevitably expensive and time-consuming, ultimately undermining incentives for innovation."

Viewed at 100x magnification, the above images reveal the differences at the microstructure level between traditional and additive manufacturing processes for a product made of the same nickel-based superalloy. The left image shows the material's features when using traditional casting manufacturing to produce a block of raw material. The right image shows the many "microweld" beads created by the additive process where a laser heats the alloy powder to deposit the material layer by layer.


The program comprises three efforts—two focusing on metal additive processes (for nickel and titanium, respectively) and one on bonded composite structures.

The first is Rapid Low Cost Additive Manufacturing (RLCAM), where they use physics-based modeling to predict materials performance for direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) using a nickel-based super alloy powder. The second is DARPA's Titanium Fabrication (tiFAB) effort, where they will combine physics- and data-based informatics models to determine key parameters that affect the quality of large manufactured structures, such as aircraft wings. tiFAB is a method that uses an electron beam instead of a laser to melt spool-fed titanium wire to build up a structure layer by layer. The Transition Reliable Unitized Structure (TRUST) effort aims to develop data informatics approaches for quantification of the composite bonding process to enable adhesives alone to join composite structures.

The Open Manufacturing program has established two Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities (MDFs)—one at Penn State focused on additive manufacturing and the other at the Army Research Laboratory focused on bonded composites. The facilities serve as testing centers for demonstrating applications of the technology, and the goal of these MDFs is also to establish permanent reference repositories where individuals can access various contributed approaches and processes models.

"Historically, U.S. military advantages were supplied by breakthroughs in materials and manufacturing," Maher said. "More recently, the risks that come along with new manufacturing have caused a lack of confidence that has stifled adoption. Through the Open Manufacturing program, DARPA is empowering the advanced manufacturing community by providing the knowledge, control, and confidence to use new technology."



Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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