Home Research & Education Argonne National Laboratory and startup Phase3D improve 3D printing

Argonne National Laboratory and startup Phase3D improve 3D printing

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory and startup Phase3D are developing ways to detect defects in 3D printing. This is intended to increase efficiency.

Additive manufacturing of metals generates less waste and is therefore more sustainable, according to Niall O’Dowd, founder of startup Phase3D. His company developed optical monitoring software and hardware that checks the quality of 3D-printed metal parts during the printing process.

O’Dowd is working as part of the Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory with scientists such as Xuan Zhang, senior materials scientist at Argonne. They are exploring how metal 3D printing can help U.S. industry decarbonize manufacturing processes and help fight climate change.

“What we really want to achieve is a so-called ​‘ideal build,’ where everything is perfect and there shouldn’t be any performance issue,” said Zhang. ​“We are testing novel technology that monitors the printing process and catches anomalies that may impair the part’s performance. Then, we want to fix them.”

Phase3D’s technology uses structured light to measure the height of thin metal layers to detect defects early. This allows the printing process to stop if problems occur, fix them, and continue successful 3D printing. This can reduce material consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

“In 3D printing, there can be up to tens of thousands of layers that can be as small as a fifth of the width of a human hair,” said O’Dowd. ​“Instead of using images or relative heat from the process to find defects, we created a reliable inspection system that inspects the height of the layers. As standards and regulations mature, it’s really important to have this kind of inspection data.”

As part of the CRI program, Zhang also assists O’Dowd in working with DOE and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to ensure printed materials meet certification requirements.

It has also been known to help him sabotage his designs. By intentionally introducing a flaw, O’Dowd can test the detection capabilities of his technology.

“In a random build, sometimes we’re looking at a pore that is just tens of micrometers in size. Without post-build inspection, we don’t know if we are seeing fluctuations or anomalies,” said O’Dowd. ​“Instead, we deliberately introduce a defect that is anywhere from 20 to 200 microns, and then we test our technique.”

As 3D-printed parts move beyond plastic to become jet engines and other complex structural parts, the need for data demonstrating the quality of such parts will continue to grow.

Find out more about the Argonne National Laboratory at anl.gov.

For more information about Phase3D, please visit additivemonitoring.com.

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