How BAM's initiative QI-Digital and MesoFocus are redefining additive manufacturing quality
May 30, 2023 | Sabrina Mosimann
The German BAM is revolutionizing the quality assurance in additive manufacturing (AM) within the initiative QI-Digital. From metal powder to non-destructive testing with X-ray technology, every step of the production chain is digitally mapped, to manufacture components with consistent quality. The MesoFocus 450 X-ray tube plays a crucial role in helping to achieve this goal. Learn more about BAM's project and the future of quality assurance in additive manufacturing.
The German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing «BAM» is working on a project to digitize elements of the German quality infrastructure (QI) and test them in an industry-oriented laboratory for AM. We talked to Uwe Zscherpel and Tobias Fritsch from BAM to learn more.
«Companies struggle to have a reliable and reproducible quality of additive manufactured (or «3D printed») components. The reason being that the production and approval of parts – especially those relevant for safety – require very time consuming and cost intensive tests.»
Dr. rer. nat. Uwe Zscherpel, Head of Digital Radiology and Image Analysis
If you take a turbine blade used in aircraft engines for example, any defects can lead to catastrophic consequences. When failures are detected in the finished part, a lot of material and time has been wasted on producing and testing the part. With QI-Digital, BAM will change that. The German federal institute will enable components to be manufactured with always the same quality, because every step along the production chain is digitally mapped and the quality tested continuously. This involves testing the raw material (powder), the settings of machines, the production process as well as post-processing at the end.
To do this, BAM has a living lab where they can test and analyze the different stages of additive manufacturing production. In the production line, non-destructive testing (NDT) with X-ray technology plays an important part in ensuring the quality, safety and structural integrity of produced components. To understand the production process and to create standards, tests are performed at all stages of the process and mapped digitally to get the full understanding and set the requirements. The MesoFocus technology helps achieving high resolution computed tomography (CT) imaging of dense and large metal structures.
What is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is a process of creating three-dimensional objects by adding layers of material on top of each other. It has revolutionized the manufacturing industry by allowing for more complex designs to be created quickly and at a lower cost. Additive manufacturing has numerous applications in industries such as aerospace, medical, and automotive, and continues to evolve with new materials and technologies.
The importance of high power and small focal spot X-ray tubes
In wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM), layers of metal are deposited on top of each other until the desired 3D part is created. Because of the individual layers and the sometimes-complex structures, an X-ray tube with a small focal spot is needed for detecting even the smallest faults. But high resolution is not the only necessity.
«The larger components we have here are typically made of metal, so highly absorbent, large geometries. Because of that, we just need more power than conventional micro focus tubes can deliver with a certain focal-spot size.»
Dr. rer. nat. Tobias Fritsch, Physicist at BAM
WAAM components are very dense and thus need a high-power X-ray tube that can penetrate the thick walls. The MesoFocus 450 in a Diondo CT System is therefore the right tool for the task, as it combines high power with a small focal spot. The high resolution capability makes sure major faults are detected. Other factors that need to be taken into consideration, especially for the industry, are speed and low maintenance. So even though open X-ray tubes could provide an even higher resolution, a faster and low maintenance, closed tube like the MesoFocus is preferred.
What is wire arc additive manufacturing?
Wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) is a type of additive manufacturing that involves the use of metal wire as the feedstock. This wire is melted by an electric arc and then deposited in layers to form a 3D part. WAAM is particularly useful for creating large-scale metal parts and has applications in aerospace, automotive, and construction industries.
A promising future
Looking ahead, BAM strives to digitize the quality assurance for AM. SMEs can then copy and implement the developed tools in their production facility but are also asked to contribute actively to the living lab. Through the platform’s digital capabilities, companies can collaborate remotely, and the frequency of physical travel and on-site inspections is reduced.
QI Digital represents a significant step forward in additive manufacturing and towards the Industry 4.0. Not only that, but it also sets new standards for non-destructive testing in general and the way X-ray inspection will work in the future.
Dr. rer. nat. Uwe Zscherpel is a Governmental Director and researcher at BAM. He holds a Diploma in Experimental Physics and a PhD in Chemical Physics from the University of Leipzig. With over 30 years of experience in the field of industrial radiographic testing, he has contributed significantly to research and standard development for film digitization and digital film replacement by computed radiography (CR), digital detector arrays (DDA) and computed tomography (CT). Latest activities are the standard development for NDT applications in additive manufacturing and the automated flaw detection using deep learning with neural networks and other image processing methods.
Dr. rer. nat. Tobias Fritsch is a scientific researcher at BAM. After a Master’s Degree in Physics he joined BAM for a PhD on NDE of AM Lattice Structures. He collected experience in industrial battery research for 1.5 Years and re-joined afterwards the CT-group at BAM as a post-doc.
He has a major interest in application-driven development of the CT-technique especially regarding quantitative image analysis. With that he advances the information depth and improves analysis routines, mainly for CT application in additive manufacturing.
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