As additive manufacturing gains traction as a means for making production parts, standards need to keep pace, ensuring quality and constancy across industries. Already, ASTM and other standards bodies are leading the effort.

The aerospace industry especially sees additive manufacturing as a cutting-edge method for producing both safety-critical and non-critical parts. Various additive methods, such as Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Electron Beam Melting (EBM), can make parts quickly without the time and capital expenditures required for traditional subtractive machine tooling.

For non-production parts, additive manufacturing also allows for rapid prototyping with multiple design iterations and immediate feedback.

As new additive materials and technologies debut regularly, analysts referenced by ASTM say the overall impact of the AM market could surpass $100 billion by 2025.

Industry Develops Standards for Additive Manufacturing

The push for standards formalized in 2009 in an effort to keep up with evolving additive methods. That year, ASTM International formed its F42 committee on additive manufacturing technologies. The initiative saw the cooperative efforts of ASTM and SME to gather consensus among industry leaders and support the adoption of the new technologies.

ASTM took its next big step this year when it selected Auburn University, in collaboration with EWI, NASA, and the UK-based Manufacturing Technology Centre, for the new Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. ASTM selected those partners following a request for proposals in November 2017. A panel of industry, government, and academic leaders chose the winner from a field of 30 proposals and interviewed a handful of finalists before making the final choice. Auburn and NASA also jointly formed the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence.

The Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence “will build a strong foundation for the future of additive manufacturing,” Katharine Morgan, president of ASTM International, said in a news release. “The synergy among the partners—combined with the trailblazing work of ASTM’s additive manufacturing committee—will help fill industry gaps and accelerate innovation.”

Each member of the center brings an important aspect to the partnership. Auburn provides expertise in education, workforce development and research—including faculty already researching additive manufacturing. The university also is currently renovating its Gavin Engineering Research Lab. EWI will provide standards-related R&D, work to build industry partnerships, and launch an industry consortium on the topic. NASA brings expertise in aerospace research and development. As an early adopter of 3D printing, the government agency began researching the key polymers about 25 years ago and more recently began work on AM metals. The UK-based Manufacturing Technology Centre offers a robust process for proving the quality of individual additive manufacturing processes.

“I see the [Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence] foremost as a facilitator of R&D for standards development,” John Vickers, NASA’s principal technologist in the area of advanced manufacturing, said in press materials from ASTM. “The R&D committee is already developing a focused roadmap to accelerate standards-driven projects and their implementation. At NASA, information from disciplines such as materials, design, manufacturing, testing, and verification flows back and forth for technology development. If we can work together in the [Center of Excellence] in this fashion, it will be much more effective.”

The center’s R&D team met in May to identify gaps in standards, including how to reuse or recycle unused feedstock such as metal powder, how to remove residue after printing, and how to test for fatigue, according to ASTM.

The end goal is for the new standards to create a common language and consistency in materials and processes, efficient testing, and applications use.

“It’s clear that this new center has the potential to shape the future of industries like aerospace, auto, medical, and more,” Morgan said in a news release.

ASTM’s F42 committee has been active in the years since its founding in 2009, and last year it released 15 new proposed standards.

As more standards are written, it will be more feasible for aerospace manufacturers to widely adopt AM technology. That’s because additively manufactured parts must be qualified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on an individual basis, wrote Cynthia Hagan and Larry Somrack, NSL Analytical Services Inc., in the July 2018 edition of Quality.

One recent standard written by the F42 committee addresses ways to qualify machines and processes that build parts using laser or electron-beam powder bed fusion, according to ASTM member Amir Farzadfar, materials and process engineer for additive manufacturing at Corning Inc. The standard also outlines steps needed to configure and control digital data. By ensuring additive manufacturing steps are fixed and repeatable, customers can be more assured of part quality.

“An additional standard is underway to support part qualification, quality assurance, and post-processing of powder bed fusion parts,” Farzadfar added in a press release.

The standards written by ASTM and its partners have a wide-ranging affect, as they are then used by organizations such as NADCAP (National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program) to define and approve accreditation processes for additive manufacturers who meet its checklist of requirements.

As the list of standards and accreditation requirements becomes more robust, manufacturers can have more faith in the supply chain and expend fewer internal resources for validation, qualification, and confirmation—it becomes easier to qualify or disqualify vendors when everyone is speaking the same language.