Predicting the Performance of Agile Additive Manufacturing Designs with CT

Additive manufacturing (AM) is one of the most revolutionary processes to come along in many years, making a dramatic impact on the industrial market. Also known as 3D printing, AM is a manufacturing technique that builds objects layer by layer using materials such as polymers, metals, and composites. This fast-evolving technology is changing the way engineers think about product design by offering enormous flexibility in what is geometrically possible. However, the more complex the design, the more challenging (and necessary) it can be to inspect in the quality control process.

Many additive manufacturers and designers have adopted industrial computed tomography (CT) to perform non-destructive testing (NDT) on the part to ensure quality throughout the R&D and production processes. A CT scan produces a 3D volumetric density map. The 3D-volume is generated by the reconstruction of a high number of 2D x-ray images. Many 2D projection images can be combined by powerful software to produce a 3D volume of practically any part, object, or product. This is critical for any application for which a manufacturer wishes to see inside an object without destroying it – and the inside is where the complexity is increasing with this new manufacturing process.

While CT technology has taken its rightful place as a viable NDT tool, many engineers may not realize what an important role it can play in the discovery phase of research and development. Utilizing CT in R&D can avoid many issues later in the production process by identifying key information about part design, raw materials and how well it matches the intended geometry, all of which are vital to the success of the product. Once designers discover the power that CT can enable as an informational tool rather than just a quality tool, they will never look at CT the same way again. A white paper titled “How CT Can Predict the Performance of Agile Additive Manufacturing Designs’ has been published by YXLON that will help to educate design engineers on the benefits of CT in evaluating part designs to determine how the part will perform, if it is fit for purpose, and if there are any variables in measurement. As with all good things, the information retrieved at the very beginning can help the designer to be more agile and to avoid costly downtime later in the design and eventually production stages. It will also clear up any misconceptions about CT and clarify how recent technology improvements in CT scanning speed, resolution and price-performance ratios make it a great tool for use in the early R&D phase.

The Future of Manufacturing

Industry 4.0 is transforming industry by changing the way industrial companies operate from day-today, by efficiently and effectively leveraging new digital and robotic techniques into the manufacturing process. Such technologies include cloud services, IoT sensors and activators, robotics, wireless networking and more. These would be intelligently combined with manufacturing machines to create what one might call a SMART factory.

AM is one of the key technologies that could help revolutionize the manufacturing value chain with the onset of Industry 4.0 because the new technologies it brings lend themselves to the customization that can be done with AM. This will bring about a shift from mass production to full customization, and from centralized to distributed production. Further, AM offers a potential to change the supply chain as we experience it today. It extends the current concept of product development and enables people not only to develop customized products, but also to manufacture them more efficiently.

CT Technology in the AM Process Chain

CT Scan showing porosity in a AM part. © Fraunhofer IWS

One of the main advantages of additive manufacturing is that it allows designers the freedom to create more than they have historically imagined. However, that freedom can come with a compromise since the more intricate and complex the structure is the more difficult it can be to inspect. This can create quite a challenge for busy manufacturing plants to remain productive. That is where the power of CT scanning comes in.

CT is the best and most accurate NDT method to authenticate the actual build quality of the part. The enhanced capabilities that CT provides result in versatility and product information that you won’t find anywhere else. CT virtually eliminates evaluation error and gives you a visual understanding of your product that you may have never seen before.

CT has been widely adopted by AM plants as a tool for non-destructive testing, but there are many other areas of the production process chain where CT can provide valuable information. Think of your Industrial CT scanner as a versatile tool box with many capabilities to assist you throughout the production process. You can perform non-destructive testing of parts and prototypes as well as research and development. Using the acquired CT data in simulations can help validate the engineering design and performance to ensure that the part is fit for purpose as well as provide proof that the concept will work as it is intended to.

Furthermore, CT’s advanced data allows analysis and programming with speed and efficiency. Design engineers always operate in an environment where time is of the essence, where fast, accurate data is crucial. Using CT scanning, most inspection reports are complete the same day that the items are received. The reason is the part can be programmed ahead of time using a CAD model and 2D drawing before it is scanned.

Misconceptions about CT in AM

Additively manufactured valve spring retainer, produced by AMPower GmbH & Co. KG for Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG

There are many misconceptions about using CT in additive manufacturing. It’s a relatively new technique for additive, so many are still learning about how it can be used. First, there’s the common perception that CT is too slow, but advances in CT scanner design and technology during the past few years have eliminated this problem. Today’s scanners have come a long way to improve speed and efficacy, more than doubling their production value. What used to take days or weeks to produce can now be done in a few minutes or hours. Also, stringent design and production standards have resulted in system durability that withstands the rigors of high-volume use.
CT scanning resolution has also improved significantly, resulting in crystal clear images that can detect even the most minute flaws. Many scanners can provide resolutions in the single digit microns range. This is quite a big step forward compared to past designs. Today’s CT software has also gotten easier to use, with improved workflow design and advanced protocols to make reconstruction faster and better. While in the past CT’s software and overall system complexity used to require staff with PhD-level education, today’s CT systems can be operated by technicians in the lab or plant floor, making it a far more economical tool in practical use. Since both CT professionals and AM professional think in terms of slices, part orientations and 3D space, they have quite a bit in common. That’s because great minds think alike.

Another common misconception is that you can’t perform metrology using CT. That may have been true in the past but recently CT has become advanced enough for design engineers to conduct precise measurements in addition to just looking for defects. CT professionals are also now very familiar with metrology, so they can speak the correct language. Now we can do both – NDT and metrology – in the same machine.

And finally, there’s the misconception that CT scanners are too costly, but the truth of the matter is you can buy a scanner for more competitive prices than you think. CT scanners have dramatically lowered in price during the last several years. CT inspection systems come in many different configurations, so you are sure to find the right choice for both your production needs and your budget. If you don’t have enough volume to purchase your own unit, you can still get the benefit of rapid CT scan information through an outsourced service bureau or YXLONs Inspection Services. Don’t forget the value CT adds to your process chain – saving you a great amount of money in quality
related costs later.

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