Reducing process variability is crucial for industries in which each step – from raw materials to equipment to the manufacturing atmosphere, must be precisely monitored and adjusted to eliminate impurities and product variation. There is a growing understanding how important reproducible quality control and a tightly controlled manufacturing environment is for additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing, one of the newest and fastest-growing manufacturing sectors, is also commonly called 3D printing. It enables users to create rapid prototypes and scale models, as well as end-use metal parts and components for industries such as aerospace, automotive and medical devices.
Additive manufacturing’s ability to produce new designs that are not possible with conventional metal fabrication methods, such as casting and machining, means parts can be made faster and on demand, reducing the need for extensive machine infrastructure and inventory.
As the industry matures, there is a growing awareness and understanding of the need to reduce process variability across the entire value chain, from metal powder production, handling and storage to printing, to thermal treatment and surface finishing. The industry is recognizing the need to achieve a repeatable process or face the consequences, which include lost time and materials, lost profit and parts that don’t meet customer specifications or which can fail at a crucial moment.
Additive manufacturing processes such as laser powder bed fusion require the use of high purity gases such as argon, nitrogen and helium to fine-tune the properties of the object being printed. The gases are needed to compensate for variations in the incoming raw materials – the powder metals and alloys – and impurities inside the printing chamber.
Learn more about the role industrial gases play in additive manufacturing.
If the atmosphere is not monitored and adjusted at the parts-per-million level to ensure repeatability, there is a risk of oxidation and uneven fusion, which can negatively impact the product’s mechanical properties or chemical composition. The consequence: a potential decrease in tensile strength and fatigue resistance, or discoloration and surface defects.
By monitoring and controlling oxygen and moisture levels inside the chamber to the parts-per-million level, and ensuring the atmosphere is reproducible time after time, an additive manufacturer can ensure the final product meets the desired structural properties and surface quality specifications.