NASA Taps Additive Monitoring Systems (Phase-3D) for In-Situ Metal 3D Printing QA


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NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has selected Phase-3D to develop and integrate in-situ monitoring technology for additive manufacturing (AM) into its on-site production powder bed fusion 3D printers. The Chicago-headquartered company is known for its flagship, patent-pending optical in-process monitoring system, which can instantly detect several major part defects.

Bringing In-situ Monitoring to NASA Rockets

Through the new collaboration, the company will offer in-situ monitoring to support flight-ready production of high-performance copper components for NASA’s liquid propulsion technologies, which have historically supported many prior NASA programs, including the Saturn rocket family, space shuttle, and technology development engines such as Fastrac. They are also continuing to support the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) propulsion systems design.

As part of the new collaborative project, Phase-3D will deploy its real-time process monitoring technology, dubbed Project Fringe, on-site at Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama. Among the objectives, the collaborators expect to reduce the per-part cost, schedule delays, and energy waste of additive production through real-time part health monitoring. Marshall already draws on decades of experience with almost every propulsion system developed and has been applying innovative approaches, such as additive manufacturing, to shorten development cycles, improve propulsion systems integration with vehicles, and validate new technologies before production.

Engineers prepare a 3D printed engine for a test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Engineers prepare a 3D printed engine for a test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Image courtesy of NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given.

The History of Additive Monitoring Systems

This one-year collaboration between NASA and Additive Monitoring Systems follows a two-year contract for full-scale in-situ AM production monitoring with the U.S. Air Force; another two-year contract to de-risk monitoring vision technology in AM from the Department of Energy (DoE)’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, several awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF); and integration into a key 3D printer original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

Commenting on the new partnership, Additive Monitoring Systems Founder and CEO Niall O’Dowd pointed out, “We have developed a rapid, objective, in-situ health monitoring system based on measurement science with quantified uncertainty. This technology allows expedited project timelines, immediate diagnosis of AM anomalies, and higher confidence in final part quality.”

O’Dowd’s monitoring techniques for metal AM come from previous research at the DoE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where he was a graduate fellow for almost four years. Then, in April 2021, O’Dowd was accepted into the fifth cohort of the Chain Reaction Innovations program, a two-year entrepreneurship initiative at Argonne National Laboratory designed to de-risk high-technology startups. During the program, O’Dowd used the Advanced Photon Source (a storage-ring-based high-energy X-ray light source facility) and other Argonne Lab facilities to advance his additive manufacturing startup: Additive Monitoring Systems.  In late 2022 the company re-branded to Phase-3D.

Advantages of In-Situ Monitoring

Officially inaugurated in 2020, Additive Monitoring Systems’ in-process monitoring system can retrofit any industrial 3D printer to provide valid part quality data. Designed to provide value to builders through dimensional measurements of several in-situ part features, the system reduces lost schedule time and wasted energy by allowing earlier part scrap.

Additive Monitoring Systems Founder and CEO Niall O’Dowd. Phase-3D Founder and CEO Niall O’Dowd. Image courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

According to the company, the increasing geometrical and material complexities in AM require sustainable solutions to reduce waste, and that is where Additive Monitoring Systems come in. Not only does the company’s technology provide a sustainable method to reduce the material waste associated with AM, but it generates data, which can then be employed in new material development research.

Some critical markets for this technology include AM part service bureaus, in-house AM production facilities at aerospace and medical device companies, and AM research institutions.

The latest NASA collaboration means to O’Dowd that there is a growing interest in the company’s products from sponsors and the rapid prototyping community. Aside from this collaboration, the expert also looks forward to accelerating AM to fully flight-qualified production of complex space flight components.

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