Metal 3D printing is a delicate process that requires a lot of knowledge – not only about the process and 3D printers, but about the powder. The formulation of a metal powder is critical to getting viable 3D printed parts, and the right equipment is needed in order to characterize that powder and make sure that it is suitable for 3D printing. Thermo Fisher Scientific has announced that it is releasing a new scanning electron microscope called the Explorer 4 Additive – the first commercially available scanning electron microscope specifically designed to measure particle size, shape and composition in metal powders used in additive manufacturing. The microscope can also inspect finished parts for quality assurance.
“The use of additive manufacturing processes is growing rapidly in many industries, especially aerospace, automotive and medical, and the technology is quickly advancing,” said Trisha Rice, Vice President and General Manager, Materials Science, Thermo Fisher Scientific. “The Explorer 4 Additive provides critical visibility into these processes, which may lead to better understanding, tighter control, improved yields and higher quality.”
According to Thermo Fisher Scientific, the Explorer 4 Additive automatically and simultaneously analyzes three of the most critical characteristics of powders used in powder-bed and powder-fed AM processes:
Particle size distribution – SEM can measure the entire size range of AM powders with better accuracy than competing techniques.
Morphology – SEM has the resolution needed to distinguish subtle differences in shape that can greatly affect the flow and packing behavior of the powder.
Impurities detection – Advanced energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) spectrometry provides fast, elemental analysis that can automatically identify impurities. Suspect particles can then be easily relocated for more detailed examination.
The Explorer 4 Additive can examine and classify large sets of particles, inclusions, voids and cracks within only minutes, allowing for the use of statistical process control techniques and faster responses to process excursions. It has high resolution imaging and micro-analysis capabilities, enabling failure analysis and process engineers to quickly find the root causes of process and product failures.
Also important in industrial additive manufacturing is working with machinery and materials that are officially qualified and certified. Oerlikon AM has partnered with leading European science and technology provider IABG to accelerate equipment and process certification, as well as equipment testing for additively manufactured components.
Thanks to the new partnership, European manufacturers will be able to provide customers with AM-qualified components that have been produced through certified processes. The new qualification, inspection and testing methods for additive manufacturing could become new standards in additive manufacturing. The joint research and development of these procedures and methods will significantly advance the industrialization of additive manufacturing and lead to more reliable components, which should increase the adoption of the technology in sectors such as aerospace, power generation, automotive and more.
“Oerlikon AM is taking a collaborative approach to integrating the whole AM value chain,” said Florian Mauerer, Head of Oerlikon AM. “Partnering with IABG will allow us to accelerate certification of parts and original equipment manufacturers to introduce more AM components into the market earlier. “Leveraging our materials, manufacturing and R&D competencies in AM, customers can benefit from the advantages that AM brings, without having to invest heavily in AM equipment, training, people and infrastructure.”
“Additive manufacturing is gaining more and more importance for our customers,” added Dr. Oliver Kosing, Head of IABG’s Tests & Analyses department. “The partnership with Oerlikon, a global company with a clear and sustainable AM strategy, allows IABG to offer even more integrated solutions along the entire AM value chain.”