NetworkNewsWire Editorial Coverage: 3D-printing technology has arrived and appears ready to beneficially disrupt every field it touches.
Additive manufacturing, better known as three-dimensional or 3D printing, has potential to change the world. However, the full promise of the technology has been stymied due to the high costs and complexities of end-product inspection and quality control. With its pioneering PrintRite3D(R) software, Sigma Labs Inc. (NASDAQ: SGLB) (SGLB Profile) appears to be ready to help unleash the transformative forces of 3D printing and usher in what’s been called the fourth industrial revolution. Aerospace has embraced 3D printing and, for the first time in the industry, Sigma Labs’ software makes possible nondestructive quality assurance during the 3D printing of metal parts, uniquely allowing errors to be corrected in real time. The sector has been searching for just such a validated tool and method to raise quality and cut costs, scale production, and bring 3D printing even more into mainstream manufacturing. Using 3D printing, Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corporation (NYSE: UTX), delivered the first entry-into-service jet-engine parts ever produced. Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE: HON) has qualified more 3D-printed aircraft parts with the FAA than any of its rivals, noting that “3D printing technology is real and it’s fantastic.” Achieving design solutions that have been inconceivable in the past, Boeing (NYSE: BA) has applied the technology to airplanes, missiles, satellites and spacecraft. These amazing achievements are made possible by 3D-printing technology, guided and directed by advanced-engineering simulation software from companies such as ANSYS (NASDAQ: ANSS) and now, it appears, significantly accelerated, enhanced and simplified by the quality assurance software of Sigma Labs.
- The 3D-printing metal industry is impeded by costly, laborious, post–manufacturing, quality-control processes.
- Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D is only known solution that enables real-time, in-process detection and intervention on quality-control manufacturing anomalies.
- SGLB software reduces waste, cost and time; allows OEMs and end users to cost effectively scale production.
- PrintRite3D is patented, third-party validated by DARPA.
Primer and Problem
3D objects can now be printed in more than 250 different materials, from plastics to titanium, creating complex structures and printing almost anything from medical prosthetics to jet engines. Additive manufacturing also reduces costs and weight, in some cases requiring as little as 10% of raw materials used in traditional manufacturing. 3D printing is the kind of technological advancement that could completely revolutionize manufacturing and totally disrupt business models. With 3D printing, the direct manufacturing cost per part is the same to create a single item as it is per part in a production flow of thousands, turning the economies of scale principle on its head. The technology allows companies to build digital designs, push “Send” and render fully formed prototype, customized products or commercial parts in volume — all while saving money, manpower, weight and time.
Like something from science fiction, additive metal-part manufacturing continuously welds 10- to 30-micron layers of powdered metal together with a laser to “sculpt” a final three-dimensional product. During the manufacture of 3D metal parts, a machine is creating the metal of a part while simultaneously forming the shape of the part. The process synthesizes the metal manufacturing functions of foundry or casting into the manufacturing process. These new processes and methods have created new exciting and previously unachievable capabilities. With 3D metal printing the new methods also created a serious unintended problem: How can the manufacturer know if the newly formed metal meets precise specifications in every 10- to 30-micron layer of a 3D part?
Major aerospace companies have taken to manufacturing 3D metal parts, reaping substantial benefits from cutting the weight of some products anywhere from 25% to 40%. The aerospace industry easily converts weight reduction in aircraft components into increased cash flow; the lighter the plane, the more “paying weight” can be carried. Though not readily transferable to other large but less weight-sensitive industries, aerospace is committed and continues to pay for costly, post-process, quality-assurance procedures. Aerospace has also realized a newfound ability to manufacture subassemblies as a single part, which until 3D metal printing were composed of 20 or more different parts.
To capitalize on these enormous benefits, aerospace companies have had to contend with serious risks of flaws in the newly formed metal. Out of necessity, the aerospace industry developed and has relied upon effective but costly solutions ranging from large-production sample runs for preproduction qualifying procedures of both machines and new parts, repeated until consistency is achieved, and CT scan inspection, which is effective but costly. For 3D metal printing to be truly unleashed from the current restraints of low-quality yields and high post-production inspection costs and surge into the broader metal-parts markets, the 3D metal-manufacturing, quality-assurance problem requires a solution that raises yields and deeply cuts post-process inspection costs.
Sigma Labs Inc. (NASDAQ: SGLB) has created a new archetype in the development and commercialization of real-time, computer-aided inspection solutions for additive manufacturing. While that might seem like a bold statement, Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D was shown to ensure process consistency and product quality in metal-additive manufacturing in a research study by the prestigious Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) conducted in tandem with Honeywell Aerospace. Exactly what the industry has been searching for — resolution of costly, quality-control challenges that impede the 3D manufacture of precision metal parts. Sigma Labs’ breakthrough software may well be the impetus to truly enable and unleash commercial additive serial production.
Many believe that Sigma Labs has the solution. The company’s patented PrintRite3D version 5.1 software integrates inspection, feedback, data collection and critical analysis into a unified platform. Unlike anything else on the market, Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D 5.1 version:
- Is platform independent and available as a third-party add-on or retrofit package for existing machines
- Mines and identifies thermal signatures of melt-pool disturbances and respective discontinuities using thermal emission spectroscopy
- Harnesses co-axial planck thermometry to provide a verified thermal signature in both temperature and coordinates
- Uses in-process quality metrics, thermal emission density and thermal emission planck to analyze internal thermal signatures and melt-pool disturbances
- Contains a graphical user interface for real-time display of live-part quality results; automated anomaly detection on thermal mapping images provides location and anomalous region size
- Collects data with fixed spatial resolution in the X/Y plane but variable resolution depending on layer height used during the manufacturing process.
Unheard of in the industry, PrintRite3D 5.1 uniquely leverages thermal signatures to monitor the quality of each product part in the production process, layer by layer and in real time. This allows operators to correct or stop production of a defective part, resulting in reduced error rates and higher yields. This incredibly sophisticated and powerful technology may hold enormous potential value.
Sigma Labs has surrounded its IP portfolio with 34 issued and pending patents, both domestically and across the globe. These patents encompass the fundamental technologies underlying Sigma Labs’ melt-pool process control, data analytics, anomaly detection, signature identification and future closed-loop-control of 3D metal printing. Third-party validation of PrintRite3D’s efficacy was demonstrated in research by DARPA, and further validation can be found in the recent announcement that Sigma Labs was awarded an upgraded Phase 2 contract by the premier industry and research network for additive manufacturing, the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Additive Manufacturing Technologies (IAPT).
To date, Sigma Labs has engaged 19 beta customers, including many of the biggest names in the industry, with more evaluation programs likely to follow. Two of these programs have already awarded Sigma Labs Phase 2 contracts for its rapid test and evaluation program, the last step before full commercial orders. The first Phase 2 contract, revealed on the Q3 earnings call, was awarded by Baker Hughes; the second contract was recently awarded by IAPT.
“The third quarter of 2019 was highlighted by continued success in engaging both OEMs and end users as PrintRite3D customers, driving continued industry awareness and developing promising commercial opportunities,” said Sigma Labs chairman and CEO John Rice. It appears that the question isn’t if Sigma Labs will receive large commercial orders but rather a matter of when.
3D printing unlocks vast new opportunities for innovative production techniques, novel products, mass customization and systematic perfection. Major international advancements in additive manufacturing are accelerating these trends at breakneck speeds and giving birth to new convergent applications. Given the magnitude and ramifications of PrintRite3D, it’s no surprise that the software is being evaluated by multiple tier-1 aerospace and OEM partners worldwide. All indications are that Sigma Labs appears ready to deliver the requisite software that truly unleashes the disruptive forces of 3D metal printing.
Committed to 3D Printing
Sigma Labs isn’t the only savvy company committed to the power, potential and future of 3D printing. Multinational conglomerate United Technologies Corporation (NYSE: UTX) has significant business concentrations in aerospace products and services, including jet engines. The company established a $75 million Additive Manufacturing Center of Expertise last year. The company’s Pratt & Whitney division has joined other industry leaders in exploring the applicability of titanium 3D printing for highly demanding and critical rotating engine parts which will be the first additively manufactured rotating part for Pratt & Whitney development programs.
Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE: HON) is a global leader in engineering services and aerospace systems. Honeywell Aerospace, which previously entered into 3D-printing R&D contracts with Sigma Labs and 3D Systems, granted Sintavia, a metal additive manufacturing company, approval last year to manufacture components for Honeywell Aerospace using powder bed fusion technology. Sigma Labs’ quality assurance software is designed to simplify quality control, reduce costs and improve yields in the powder bed fusion 3D printing metal process.
Boeing (NYSE: BA) is a multinational corporation that designs, manufactures and sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets, satellites, telecommunications equipment and missiles worldwide. The company has stated that “additive manufacturing — also known as 3D printing — enables an efficient design process that can achieve design solutions that we could not have imagined in the past.” With a systems approach to additive manufacturing, Boeing’s first significant application of additive manufacturing was to the SES–15 spacecraft.
Software giant ANSYS (NASDAQ: ANSS) offers a complete simulation workflow for additive manufacturing that allows the transition from R&D efforts for metal-additive manufacturing into a successful manufacturing operation. ANSYS is the global leader in engineering simulation. Through its strategy of pervasive engineering simulation, ANSYS helps the world’s most innovative companies deliver radically better products to their customers.
For more information on Sigma Labs, visit Sigma Labs Inc. (NASDAQ: SGLB)
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