While the rapid growth of additive manufacturing (AM) technology has helped engineers in many industries create innovative new component designs, the unusual nature of the necessary raw materials and the resulting printed structures has created significant materials testing challenges.
- The intricate designs and the uniqueness of the sintered or deposited alloy microstructures create challenges in mechanical testing and metallography.
- The increasing development of new alloys that improve the performance and strength of sintered structures, as well as minimizing the need for post print processing, create interesting challenges in analytical chemistry.
- The lack of known properties for the many new alloys and materials results in the need for determining a wide range of fundamental properties, such as true microstructure, density, strength, fracture toughness and more.
- In addition, the rapid growth of AM implementation at start-ups and existing companies has resulted in not only materials testing challenges but significant issues with capacities and skilled engineers in the laboratory industry.
The raw materials used in 3D printing are diverse: wire and powdered nickel, steel and titanium alloys; polymer resins and filaments. There has been a constant push towards lighter, stronger, and tougher materials in just about every market sector as AM expands its capabilities to produce ever more varied products. While the technology both in raw materials and production methods has evolved greatly, the need for determining critical material characteristics is vital if AM is to continue to advance its capacity for creating complex and durable products, especially in high performance applications.
As 3D printing becomes more mainstream, there will be more challenges to accurately testing the materials characteristics of both raw materials and finished products. A quick turnaround for the quote and job will help manufacturers leverage the nimble nature of AM for continuous product and process improvement.