American company Sigma Labs Inc has filed a patent that has positive implications for improved process control in metal additive manufacturing, with America's jet engine maker GE set to apply the technology in the production of its new LEAP and GE9X engines.
The patent application concerns a claimed unique sensor that "will significantly enhance the ability to improve the quality of additive manufacturing processes especially for critical metal parts like those for aerospace, automotive and defense", says the release.
Mark Cola, CEO and president of Sigma Labs, explained: "Currently, the additive manufacturing process involves a lot of trial and error in order to get the right operating parameters. Companies use their best judgment and past experience, but new materials, new shapes and new parts offer production challenges, and the new Sigma Labs sensor technology could help reduce development time. Additive manufacturing typically involves lasers scanning over a layer of powder, melting it, and building up the part layer by layer.
"To know precisely when the laser is putting in just the right amount of energy into the powder layer - not too much and not too little - so that the layer is completely melted, without overheating it, is very important. Our new sensor and data analysis invention helps to accomplish just that - determine optimal coupling between the laser and the powders. As we proceed with development, we expect to offer this sensor to current and future customers of our PrintRite3D systems."
Sigma Labs Inc, located in Sante Fe, New Mexico, develops and engineers advanced real-time, non-destructive quality inspection systems for commercial firms worldwide through its wholly-owned subsidiary B6 Sigma Inc.
In May last year, GE Aviation and Sigma Labs Inc. signed a joint technology development agreement to advance and implement in-process inspection technologies for additive manufactured jet engine components.
At that time, Mr Cola said: "We are pleased to have signed the agreement and to begin the next phase in demonstrating our PrintRite3D technology for additive manufacturing of metal parts. Together, we will be focusing our efforts in working to assure the build quality and as-built repeatability of additively manufactured aircraft engine components, thereby ensuring predictable materials properties critical to successful product commercialisation."
The mutually-developed inspection technology had the target of verifying the quality and geometry of additive components during the additive build process, increasing additive production speeds up to 25% in support of GE Aviation's growing requirements.
By 2020, GE Aviation will produce more than 100,000 additive manufactured components for the LEAP (pictured) and GE9X engines – world's first passenger jet engine with fuel nozzles produced by additive manufacturing. GE will install 19 additive manufactured fuel nozzles on every LEAP engine, which has amassed more than 4,500 orders. The LEAP fuel nozzle is up to 25% lighter and five-times more durable than traditionally manufactured fuel nozzles, leading to significant fuel savings.
Last month, GE Aviation announced that it is to open a new $100 million assembly plant in Indiana, USA, to build the new LEAP engine, a joint venture between GE and France's Snecma, which will enter service in 2016 and already has 6,000 confirmed orders valued at $78 billion.
Author: Andrew Allcock