British technology consultant TWI has received a signed AM facility qualification from certification organization Lloyd’s Register (LR). The news comes following an independent audit on TWI’s 3D printing center in Yorkshire, UK.
The audit assessed the design, manufacturing, post-processing, and inspection of components produced using the EOS M 290 metal powder bed fusion system at TWI’s facility. TWI is now the first UK company to receive the qualification for a facility focused on additive manufacturing.
David Hardacre, PBF Lead Specialist at TWI, explains: “An LR qualification provides independent third-party assurance to an AM facility and demonstrates a real commitment to the highest levels of consistent quality and safety.”
Laser powder bed fusion
PBF systems are able to fabricate high-strength, geometrically complex parts that would otherwise be costly or time-consuming if produced using traditional manufacturing methods. They utilize high-intensity lasers to fuse layers of fine powder into solid layers until 3D structures are created, with some machines operating with polymers and others with metals. In the case of the audit, LR was focused on parts made of stainless steel 316L – a material commonly used for petrochemical or marine applications due to its high corrosion resistance.
The additive manufacturing of stainless steel 316L is regarded as being in its infancy however, along with laser powder bed fusion as a whole when compared to traditional casting. The qualification aims to inspire trust in the technology for industrial applications where failure in operation would be disastrous, both financially and environmentally. In certain cases, part failure may even endanger human life.
Paul Goodwin, PBF Lead at TWI, explains: “Laser powder bed fusion is increasingly being used in industry, but its uptake has been hindered by a lack of understanding of the process, particularly in terms of controlling the quality and reproducibility of the parts made and how to qualify and certify these parts for use.”
He concludes: “The achievement of the facility qualification allows TWI to support industry on their journey towards part qualification and pre-audit facility checks for additively manufactured parts. We are now engaging with stakeholders regarding future work and additional developments to strengthen the facility qualification, including the addition of other materials and LPBF systems.”
Lloyd’s Register and TWI have a history of collaborative work, jointly publishing an updated version of LR’s metal additive manufacturing framework a few years ago. The work aimed to encourage the “safe adoption” of metal 3D printing by promoting part certification, a vision that is still alive and well today and shared by both organizations. There are also academics in the field working to see metal additive manufacturing flourish. A team of researchers from Texas A&M University recently developed a set of guidelines and parameters that allow for the additive manufacturing of a low-alloy martensitic steel (AF9628) into defect-free parts. According to the study, the tensile strength of the martensitic steel was the highest reported to date for any 3D printed alloy.
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Featured image shows the EOS M 290 at TWI’s 3D printing facility. Photo via TWI.