Why Testing and Inspection Are Crucial to Additive Manufacturing

Metal powder reusability issues demand more data.

(Image courtesy of NSL Analytical Services, Inc.)

(Image courtesy of NSL Analytical Services, Inc.)

Most of the talk surrounding 3D printing focuses on the technology itself, whether it’s comparing additive and subtractive manufacturing or evaluating the best 3D printer materials. However, questions regarding the quality assurance and technical standards for 3D printing in production tend to receive less attention, despite their importance to the future of the industry.

To offer a specific example, one of the most pressing questions regarding metal 3D printing concerns the reusability of metal powders. How many times can metal powder be re-fed into a printer before its properties undergo a substantial change? Answering this question requires significant data collection, which would explain why some companies are incorporating in-process inspection into industrial 3D printers.

Of course, not every printer will be amenable to in-process inspection techniques. In such cases, manufacturers utilizing metal 3D printing will need to rely on metallurgical laboratories to verify the integrity of re-used powders. Fortunately, many such labs are starting to add metal powder characterization to their repertoire.

For example, NSL Analytical Services, Inc. recently announced that it is offering chemical composition, powder characterization and metallurgical evaluation for additive manufacturing applications in the medical, nuclear and aerospace industries.

(Image courtesy of NSL Analytical Services, Inc.)

(Image courtesy of NSL Analytical Services, Inc.)

“As an analytical laboratory, we have been testing metal powders for more than 40 years. Testing the chemical composition is a natural thing for us and we’re bringing that expertise to AM in a new way,” said NSL president, Larry Somrack. “Clients are very interested in how the powders behave after multiple runs in a powder bed application. The properties of metal powder re-use are a hot topic right now, and companies are hungry for scientific data.”

NSL’s services for additive manufacturing include verifying feed stock, identifying mechanical and chemical properties and improving the properties of additively manufactured products. The company will be presenting a paper entitled “NiCr-Alloy Powder Re-use and Testing Results in Additive Manufacturing” at the MS&T (Materials Science & Technology) conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For more information, visit the NSL Analytical website.