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Fraunhofer ILT set to standardize LB-PBF 3D printer maintenance

The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) has been awarded a new additive manufacturing standardization contract by ASTM International.

Through the project, the Aachen-based institute will focus on selecting and qualifying imaging sensor technology that can be used for machine monitoring purposes in laser powder bed fusion (PBF) 3D printers. The work is ultimately set to advance the standardization of machine condition monitoring and maintenance, where ILT will also provide cost-reducing recommendations for the end-users of the technologies.

“Our outstanding expertise in LB-PBF is based on 25 years of development in additive manufacturing and today allows us to profitably combine expert knowledge with digital technologies,” explains Niklas Prätzsch, project manager in the LPBF competence area at Fraunhofer ILT. “After the completion of the proposals evaluation by ASTM executive section on research and innovation (F42.90.05), we were selected as a new project partner.”

The project is concerned with monitoring the conditions of optical systems such as this multiscanner LB-PBF system. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.
The project is concerned with condition monitoring for sensitive optical systems such as this multiscanner LB-PBF system. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.

The importance of AM standardization

In the manufacturing sector, internationally recognized standards are the set of specifications, guidelines, and requirements products and services must meet to ensure they are fit for purpose. As well as streamlining the development process for manufacturers, standards are also integral in inspiring confidence among end-users, especially for emerging technologies like 3D printing.

ASTM International, which has been operating as a non-governmental standardization organization for more than 120 years, has led the standardization of additive manufacturing in Committee F42 since 2009.

Furthermore, the organization also formed the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM CoE) in 2018, in partnership with government, industrial, and academic bodies. With the simple aim of accelerating AM standardization, the AM CoE conducts R&D projects and provides education, workforce development, certification, and advisory services.

Machine condition monitoring for PBF 3D printing

The type of feedstock used in LPBF 3D printers is a very fine metal powder, which unfortunately means that component contamination during processing is a very real danger. Since the high-precision optical systems found in these machines require high levels of cleanliness, machine monitoring plays an important role in preventative maintenance.

Fraunhofer ILT will work until the end of 2021 to develop guidelines to standardize and simplify the maintenance of LPBF 3D printers, specifically by testing and qualifying imaging sensor technologies. Without these guidelines, users end up replacing components too early, ultimately increasing operating costs as a result of unnecessary downtime and spare part consumption.

Prätzsch explains, “Manufacturers’ current maintenance guidelines are often still far too conservative. In contrast to long-established manufacturing technologies, there is no or only a comparatively small database available as a basis for making decisions whenever maintenance cycles need to be determined.”

The project will yield recommendations aimed at end-users of the qualified technologies, helping companies assess the conditions of their optical systems and independently plan their own maintenance cycles. By providing a data-based approach to maintenance planning, ILT’s engineers will strive to empower users to easily generate their own condition monitoring databases. The goal here is a standardized decision-making best-practice, one that advises on when and how to conduct maintenance and calibration.

Prätzsch concludes, “We are providing end-users with recommendations that simplify their use of cost-effective imaging sensor technology for condition monitoring of optical systems in LB-PBF systems. Based on the data, they can then make informed decisions about whether or not maintenance is necessary.”

A protective window that was not maintained in a timely manner. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.
This is what happens to protective windows that aren’t maintained in a timely manner. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.

Just last month, ASTM International signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Canada-based NSERC Network for Hollistic Innovation in Additive Manufacturing (HI-AM) to accelerate 3D printing standardization. Announced at the fourth annual HI-AM Conference, the agreement ultimately aims to further support the global industrialization of additive manufacturing technologies.

Late last year, ASTM International also launched its third round of funding to support research projects that encourage additive manufacturing standardization. The capital injection, supported by additional in-kind contributions, facilitated eight different global projects with the aim of ‘aligning technical standardization with the rapidly evolving AM industry’.

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Featured image shows a multiscanner LB-PBF optical system. Photo via Fraunhofer ILT.

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