America Makes Announces Winners of AM Qualification Project Calls

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Founded in 2012 as the DoD’s national manufacturing innovation institute for AM and a Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII), America Makes, based in Youngstown, Ohio, is focused on accelerating adoption of AM across the U.S., as well as increasing the country’s manufacturing competitiveness. As such, the organization, under the guidance of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), doles out a lot of funding through its various Project Calls. It recently announced the winners of two Project Calls, both of which are being funded by the Department of the Air Force (DAF) ManTech Office.

Operational Qualification

The first is the $2.9 million Methods for Demonstrating Operational Qualification (OQ) Project Call. AM has the potential to improve the efficiency of production workflows, as well as the resiliency of domestic supply chains, but we need testing and data first, followed by analyzing said data in order to, as America Makes put it, “validate acceptable operational qualifications.” This takes time—quality assurance (QA) must occur in order to determine that manufacturing practices, and the data collected from them, will verify that workflow outputs are where they should be. But by validating proper data-driven methods of qualification, you can ultimately lower both the time and cost of demonstrating acceptance of the data. Many tasks are included in OQ, which will result in validated process control documentation that proves the manufacturing process can deliver the necessary requirements.

Graphic representations for operational guidance development and key process variable (KPV) window studies.

This Project Call asks award recipients to demonstrate proper data gathering and analysis methods that will help drive acceptance of metal AM operations. The winning team lead for Project 1, Methods for Demonstrating Operational Qualification, is Wichita State University – National Institute for Aviation Research (WSU/NIAR). The project will address several specific barriers to rapid OQ, including the lack of checklists and clear requirements of 3D printed parts; lack of guidance and key process variable (KPV) relationships to OQ requirements; lack of OQ auditing and approval agencies, and more.

“Wichita State University National Institute for Aviation Research (WSU NIAR) has composed a program that will establish a sustainable OQ process to be widely implemented within the organic and defense industrial bases (OIB and DIB). This will allow for a shorter and less costly process which will accelerate our nation’s conversion from an AM capability to a capable AM manufacturing capacity. NIAR will deliver a public framework that outlines OQ requirements including material specifications, a published KPV window study to aid in material specification compliance, and an industry verification process.”

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) is the lead for Project 2, Accelerate Control and Certification: Enhancing Laser PBF and Electron Beam PBF Operation Quality via Real-time Analytics, Technological Integration, and Experimental Platforms for a Resilient Supply Chain. The rest of the project team consists of Addiguru, Beehive Industries, EOS North America, and the University of Michigan.

Developing the ACCELERATE framework for compatibility: E-PBF and L-PBF, various platforms, diverse brands.

This project team will build a comprehensive OQ framework—designed for compatibility and integration across many brands and platforms—that addresses both L-PBF and E-PBF. This framework will also include procedures and best practices for OQ of platforms that produce end parts, in particular for USAF hardware applications, thus enabling informed decision-making. At the end, industry adopters, regulatory agencies, and other relevant stakeholders should be able to use the framework to enhance mission readiness.

Project 3, Improving LPBF Operational Qualification through Software Automation, is about improving lengthy manual OQ, which can keep 3D printers busy for a long time, but not creating parts like they should be. Team lead Dyndrite, together with ASTM International and Siemens Energy, will create a financial and productivity-focused qualification step change for AM, leveraging the skills of all three participants. The final product will be a data-validated software toolkit for automating the build creation process and reporting with, as America Makes writes, “machine variability understood and neutralized via parameterization across LPBF platforms.”

Dyndrite’s proposed fully digital automated workflow.

“We are excited to be working with an established experienced user of additive manufacturing within regulated industries. Siemens Energy has already demonstrated the use of AM for critical applications, appreciates the costs and challenges associated with OQ, and also understands how Dyndrite and ASTM can contribute to reducing costs and increasing material performance,” said Steve Walton, Head of Product, Dyndrite. “Together we are building tools that will lead to further applications innovation within Siemens Energy for the benefit of the AM industry.”

The team expects that its automated system will reduce cost and build preparation time by 50%.

AM Process Pre-Qualification

Aligning with the America Makes Additive Manufacturing Technology Roadmap, awardees for the AM Process Pre-Qualification Project Call are working to identify the current, emerging, and future state of AM process qualification, placing the priority on qualifying AM machines in order to validate acceptable operations. Three projects are recipients of $850,000 in funding for this Project Call, and Applied Optimization, Inc. is the team lead for Project 1, with the team also consisting of ASTM International and Lockheed Martin.

Multi-scale, multi-physics simulations to predict AM process parameters, accounting for the residual heat buildup, local thermal behavior, and melt pool physics. These simulations are aligned with the NASA standard to mitigate defects and produce consistent solidification profiles for the as-built material.

Their objective is demonstrating a reusable method to lower the lost of LPBF process qualification by up to 40% for pre-qualification of the method. The team will also create a qualified material process (QMP) that can produce a set of reference parts per NASA standards for process control qualification requirements (PCQR), which need consistent solidification conditions, surface roughness, melt pool morphology, and defect-free material. The team will perform laser caustic measurements and experimental gas flow across the build platform, and the results will be used to develop reusable strategies that can account for any discrepancies, so that repeat build experiments aren’t needed.

Project 2 will focus on Sensor-Based Approaches to LPBF Machine Pre-Qualification. The winner and team lead is the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), which has prior experience with not only LPBF qualification but also America Makes Project Calls. The rest of the team consists of Northrop Grumman, The Ohio State University Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME), and ZEISS Industrial Quality Solutions, LLC. Finally, Project 3, led by Sentient Science, is about Build Area Qualification through Statistical Modeling of Melt Pool and Defect Distribution. Purdue University is the other partner on this project.

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