Quality assurance is obviously a vitally important component of any industry, but it’s especially critical for the defense sector – along with timely production. Materials and manufacturing processes need to provide consistently reliable and strong performance, and that doesn’t always happen, unfortunately, particularly with newer manufacturing methods, leading to production delays and performance issues that the defense industry in particular just can’t afford. As a result, there’s resistance to the adoption of new manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing. That’s what led the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create the Open Manufacturing program.
“DARPA created the Open Manufacturing program to lower the cost and speed the delivery of high-quality manufactured goods with predictable performance,” the agency states. “It aims to do so by creating a manufacturing framework that captures factory-floor and materials processing variability and integrates probabilistic computational tools, informatics systems and rapid qualification approaches. These newly developed concepts and approaches will be used to characterize and reduce the risk of new manufacturing technologies.”
One of the goals of the Open Manufacturing program is to create what the agency has called an Integrated Computational Material Engineering (ICME) framework that can accurately predict the properties of metal components produced with additive manufacturing. That’s a specialty of Sigma Labs, whose PrintRite3D software was designed to help manufacturers better monitor the properties of metal materials and parts during the additive manufacturing process.
In 2014, DARPA awarded Sigma Labs a Phase II contract with Honeywell Aerospace after the successful completion of Phase I in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which was established to facilitate contributions from small businesses to national security. Sigma Labs completed Phase II earlier this year, and yesterday the company announced that they have been awarded a Phase III contract – the final stage of the SBIR process, which involves the creation of a finished product or service.
“We are very pleased to have once again been selected for a follow-on contract with Honeywell as part of their DARPA OM award,” said Mark Cola, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sigma Labs. “Having successfully completed the Phase II piece of the program earlier this year, we look forward to working with Honeywell and its team to further demonstrate how our PrintRite3D® technology enables rapid manufacturing processes such as laser-based 3D printing for precision metal components. Through this award, we’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate how our PrintRite3D® software can be a key enabler for developing quality assurance standards for metal AM aerospace components.”
Work on Phase III will begin this month and is expected to run through the middle of 2018. The total funding awarded to Sigma Labs is about $0.4 million. Several major corporations have already adopted PrintRite3D software, with Siemens being the most recent, and Sigma Labs continues to expand and add to the program even as they work with Honeywell to bring the technology into the aerospace and defense industries and further the development of DARPA’s ICME framework through the Open Manufacturing program.