America Makes, the public-private partnership that the Obama administration set up to foster research and innovation in additive manufacturing, achieved a significant milestone late last year: an online portal to track gaps in additive manufacturing (AM) standards. To understand the significance, compare driving in the 1980s with a paper roadmap with using GPS today to dynamically track your route.
“We have been engaged in the standards space dating back to 2016,” John Wilczynski, executive director of America Makes, said. “There is an obvious need for standardization and certification of components. It gets hard to buy something if you can’t inform the supply chain what you’re going to measure against.
“America Makes is not writing the standards,” he added. “But we recognized an opportunity to play a role as an institution and wanted to bring the additive manufacturing community together with the expectation that we could be the coordinating body.”
Instead of an immediate update of 2018’s Standardization Roadmap for Additive Manufacturing 2.0, the AM community placed a higher value on an up-to-date, dynamic tool —a living document, Wilczynski said. The Additive Manufacturing Standards Collaborative, a joint effort between America Makes and the American National Standards Institute, launched the online interactive portal in October.
“We decided not to do a version 3.0 yet,” he said. “Our community told us, ‘It’s more important to know who is doing what and when am I going to get the next standard.’ Everyone wanted more coordination around standards. We have now transitioned to a more dynamic means of updating standards.”
The standards-gap online interactive portal is organized by the eight categories in the AM roadmap. Users can click on a gap and learn:
At the top of the page, items that have been updated have flags next to them.
Users interested in a particular gap or standard can click to go to the standard and the owner of that standard. Standards developers help keep the interactive document up to date.
“No matter how big the standards bodies are, they’re working with limited resources,” Wilczynski said. “This provides prioritization from the community of what needs to be worked on. Ultimately, it’s very effective for the standards bodies to help them focus on what to do next.”
The project, which took about 18 months, has been well received in the AM community. “Feedback has been fantastic,” he said.
The next step for the institute is deciding when is the best time for the 3.0 Roadmap.
“In the future, we are looking for more opportunities to grow the visibility of standards and their importance to the broader adoption of additive manufacturing,” Wilczynski said.
America Makes’ role in coordinating standards reflects the institute’s overall vision to bring AM stakeholders together to advance additive technology and solve problems.
“Our role as an institute is more focused on how do we identify the difficult problems the community is facing and how do we put together programs that address those challenges,” he said. “Our role is convening people around the problem space.”
As part of that role, America Makes also has conducted studies and applied R&D projects focused on the digital thread.
In the past, AM often involved using software and technology from multiple companies.
“Every time you transition from one software product to another, you have the possibility of affecting the model,” he said. “As you move from one platform to another, there’s a loss of fidelity, a loss of meta data, and a potential to introduce defects.”
The consolidation of software companies in the industry is helping to improve the fidelity of the digital thread, Wilczynski said:
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a transition where a number of the larger software providers have started to acquire smaller companies and bring a lot of different products within their software suites. Now manufacturers can easily traverse from one software tool to another software tool all in the same package. That means fewer opportunities to disconnect the digital thread. The key is being able to transition from software to software and, in the end, get what you actually designed in the first place.”
One potential downside of this consolidation is the loss of advancement that can result when smaller technology companies are acquired by larger entities.
“A lot of these small businesses that are being acquired are coming up with innovative ways to solve problems, many related to speed and ability to compute solutions much more quickly,” Wilczynski said. “The fear is losing some of that innovation.”
America Makes also fosters innovation.
For example, the institute recently brought together three large aircraft original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to study distortion that occurred when manufacturing a particular aircraft feature, he said.
“Distortion is one of the realities of the additive process, particularly with laser powder bed fusion,” Wilczynski said.
Because of the geometry of the parts being made, there is a potential for areas to be heated multiple times by the laser during manufacturing.
“That heating and re-heating creates residual stress and problems within the components,” he said. “A lot of task planning goes into how and where you’re introducing heat to a build volume. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re having to build the same component five different ways to see which way works the best for that geometry. We’re making an effort first to understand and predict the distortion. The key is knowing where the distortion takes place, varying the path of the laser so we don’t go back to one specific areas as often, and knowing how to compensate for the distortion.”
In the past, a handful of experts with doctorates really understood the problem. The goal is to move toward a future where the owner of a machine shop doesn’t need highly educated experts building the models, Wilczynski said.
Another challenge facing AM relates to materials.
Manufacturers first need a better understanding of current materials used in additive manufacturing, he said. But the industry also needs to develop new AM materials and provide them in the proper forms to fit the processes.
“The realities in various AM processes are that some current materials are not always great candidates even though we have figured out how to adjust the process to make it work with those materials,” he said. “For example, we need materials that are less prone to cracking or that can deliver other specific performance characteristics.”
Materials will continue to be a focus for America Makes and the AM community, he said, especially as supply chains become more horizontally integrated.
Another large focus area for the institute is qualification and certification.
“Industry needs to be confident that the products being produced with AM are repeatable, reliable and match our math,” Wilczynski said. “Ultimately, models need to be produced in a manner that meets the safety criteria of the end-use application.”
The institute is working to address that issue.
America Makes also is addressing AM cybersecurity.
In AM, those threats are “related to digital files—corruption, tampering, editing/altering,” Wilczynski said. “This can happen at the software and hardware interfaces. The problem becomes increasing complex because of the layer-by-layer nature of the process. Since most parts require thousands of layers of material, there is a tremendous opportunity to embed flaws within a processing layer or alter machine parameters in a way that could create defects resulting in part failure.”
Software providers are working on different approaches to address these threats.
The institute also is addressing cybersecurity in its Joint Additive Manufacturing Model Exchange (JAMMEX) project focused on developing a platform to exchange models that can be printed, he said. The platform is specifically focused on creating a tool that the Department of Defense can use to transfer models across the globe.
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