Ensuring quality in 3D printed parts has been a hurdle to the technology’s adoption for production. There are two main challenges to be overcome: inspecting and validating final parts, and controlling the process itself. Many industrial 3D printers, particularly metals systems, are now equipped with in-process monitoring to track the machine’s performance throughout the build. Some systems even capture high-resolution photos of each layer so that every area of the part is fully traceable. Data from each build can be used to better understand the 3D printer and improve subsequent prints. The future of process improvement could be “fleet learning” in which a whole collection of printers can be tracked in order to improve reliability for all. Learn more in the video below about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve one manufacturer’s 3D printers.
Even with in-process monitoring, most 3D printed parts will still require some amount of final part inspection. AM’s ability to build complex geometries with internal features such as cooling channels, hollow chambers and lattice infills makes it difficult to fully inspect 3D printed parts with conventional gages and CMMs. For mission-critical aerospace and similar parts, nondestructive testing methods such as X-ray and CT scans are needed. When used in conjunction with analysis software, these scans make it possible to confirm not only the geometric and dimensional aspects of a part, but also to check for inclusions, porosity and other internal defects.