Home Research & Education New technology improves production time for 3D-printed machine parts

New technology improves production time for 3D-printed machine parts

Researchers at North Carolina State University have demonstrated a technique that allows users who manufacture metal machine parts using 3D printing technologies to perform automated quality control of manufactured parts during the finishing process.

“One of the reasons people are attracted to 3D printing and other additive manufacturing technologies is that these technologies allow users to quickly replace critical machine components that are otherwise difficult to make outside of a factory,” says Brandon McConnell, co-corresponding author of a paper on the work. “And additive manufacturing tools can do this as needed, rather than dealing with supply chains that can have long wait times. That usually means using 3D printing to create small batches of machine parts on demand.”

After a metal machine part has been printed, it requires additional post-processing and must be measured to ensure it meets critical tolerances. The current process involves removing the part from the production line, measuring it and reinserting it for fine-tuning, which is time-consuming.

The researchers have now integrated 3D printing, automated machining, laser scanning and tactile measurement technologies with appropriate software to create a largely automated system that produces metal machine parts that meet the required tolerances.

“We were able to finish the part in 200 minutes using conventional techniques; we were able to finish the same part in 133 minutes using our new technique,” McConnell says. “Depending on the situation, saving 67 minutes could be incredibly important. Time is money in most professional settings. And in emergency response contexts, for example, it could be the difference between life and death.”

This technique currently focuses on machine parts with round or cylindrical features, such as pistons, but could be adapted for other parts as well. The hardware used is commercially available, and the necessary software is described in detail in the research article.

“All of the hardware we used in this technique is commercially available, and we outline the necessary software clearly in the paper – so we feel that this new approach could be adopted and put into use almost immediately,” McConnell says. “And we are certainly open to working with partners who are interested in making use of this technique in their operations.”

The article “Automatic Feature Based Inspection and Qualification for Additively Manufactured Parts with Critical Tolerances” was published in the International Journal of Manufacturing Technology and Management. The researchers are open to cooperation with interested parties who would like to integrate this technology into their operations.

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