This piece was originally published in the March 2017 issue of electroindustry.
Stephen Brown, Director of Innovation, CSA Group
Complex shapes made of lighter and stronger materials, intricate designs, and opportunities for mass customization—these are the benefits delivered by additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Traditional manufacturing techniques such as casting and machining fall short of such results and can make them cost prohibitive.
The manufacturing of a 3D product starts with a digital design and involves solidifying thin layers of material, a process that offers unprecedented opportunities to industries such as automotive, aerospace, and healthcare, as well as in consumer products such as jewelry and packaging. This technology can be used throughout a product’s lifecycle, from rapid prototyping to design, manufacturing, and maintenance, when spare parts can be printed on demand.
While additive manufacturing is currently too slow to support mass manufacturing, these key industries show no sign of slowing down with their 3D printing applications. As they continue to evolve their manufacturing technologies, it is only a matter of time before a commercially viable solution is identified.
The component parts and complex materials involved in 3D printing technologies add a layer of complexity—and safety challenges—that can be mitigated through reliable testing and certification.
Path to Commercialization
One need only look at the global manufacturing landscape to see 3D printing as a successful manufacturing technique that supports aggressive growth strategies. Among the leaders is Renishaw, a global company that designs and builds advanced additive manufacturing systems. Another is EOS, which turns innovative ideas from prototype to serial manufacturing.
These companies are among many that clearly demonstrate the use of 3D printing technology as a viable alternative to current manufacturing processes, particularly when customization at the design stage is required. When systems and finished products are tested and certified for safety and reliability, 3D printing can transform industries focused on delivering unique products on a mass scale.
Materials compatible with 3D printing range from plastics to metals, and their number is increasing. Each application will dictate the performance properties of the finished product, as users will expect a certain look and feel. Therefore, materials will need to meet mechanical, chemical, and tensile requirements. The testing and certification of such materials require most standards development organizations (SDOs) to extend their current capabilities and acquire relevant expertise.
Not only do machines require the correct material, but they also need to behave in such a way as to ensure that their end products meet minimum quality and safety standards. The answer is in the testing and certification of the entire system, using safety criteria that are suitable for the level of complexity introduced by the additive manufacturing methods.
The concept of functional safety is very much a part of the testing and certification services of many SDOs, such as CSA Group and Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Functional safety principles are applied to products or systems whose failure to operate reliably could harm people, property, or the environment. Companies can demonstrate functional safety by showing that the systems’ functionality is dependable enough for the level of risk it controls.
Evolving technologies reshape the manufacturing landscape and accelerate change, but one thing remains constant: manufacturers need a reliable, technically competent, global testing and certification partner to gain and keep a competitive edge.