Setting Sail Now: 3D Metal Printing

(DGIwire) – In the future, 3D metal printing may play an increasingly prominent role in Navy ship construction. That’s the message of a recent article in The Virginian-Pilot, which notes how this cutting-edge technology is being harnessed by shipbuilding companies in the Newport News area. In late 2018, for example, Naval Sea Systems Command approved a prototype 3D-printed metal drain strainer for installation on the Naval Station Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman. This was originally an iron-cast part that required a lead time of up to nine months, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

The Navy is looking to 3D printing as a way to skirt this kind of long lead time for critical parts, as well as a way to replace pieces that may be obsolete, the article says. It may also prove a less expensive method when the Navy needs only a few replacement parts rather than having to order a large lot. The Navy is discussing other 3D metal-printed components with shipbuilders as well.

“U.S. Naval forces have a lot to gain by integrating parts created by additive manufacturing into their supply chain and, as is already occurring, by adding additive manufacturing machines to their ships” says John Rice, CEO of Sigma Labs. “High-stress critical parts for both military and civilian use are often manufactured in time-critical settings in which high quality is essential yet difficult to assure, unless best-of-breed In-Process Quality Assurance (IPQA) tools are also used. And, of course, the same IPQA tools are also required for serial production of parts for the military that, even when not time-critical, are certainly still quality-critical.”

Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D® suite of products presents a significant value proposition to OEMs and manufacturers, as it is designed to increase production yield of 3D metal manufactured parts, cut post-process quality inspection costs, and reduce time to market. PrintRite3D® combines inspection, feedback, data collection and critical analysis into a unified platform.

The first component of the PrintRite3D® platform is SENSORPAK®, which utilizes multi-sensors and affiliated edge computers to collect real-time data on additive manufacturing processes. It enables part quality assessment during manufacturing and is capable of measuring the salient in-process state variables associated with an additive metal manufacturing process.

This component is complemented by INSPECT®, which comprises software for in-process inspection of metallurgical properties. It uses sensor data and establishes in-process metrics for each product’s design specifications and metal. It provides manufacturing engineers with information in real time that can permit them to avert a part that is beginning to display discontinuities from going on to become a rejected part. INSPECT® also generates quality reports based on rigorous statistical analysis of manufacturing process data and allows for interrogation of suspect part data that can be used for process improvement and optimization.

Sigma Labs is further refining the PrintRite3D® suite to include two additional components: CONTOUR®, a layer-by-layer geometry measurement tool, and CLOSED LOOP CONTROL, consisting of software that can signal the machine controller for a corrective to offset a part beginning to deviate off design from developing into a rejected part.