The role of material characterization in the next manufacturing revolution

Ever heard of the term ‘prosumer’? If you haven’t yet, chances are you will soon – perhaps you even already are one. Through customization, design involvement, or even manufacturing entire products, prosumerism blurs the lines between production and consumption. Think of personalized sports kits or print-to-order planners – these are prosumerism in action. And now, with the rise of 3D printing, consumers can create whole objects from the comfort of their own homes.

In fact, 3D printing is part of a wider process called additive manufacturing (AM). By connecting materials additively, usually layer-on-layer, AM can deliver greater sustainability, flexibility, and process efficiency. To start with, as an additive process, it generates less waste than its subtractive counterparts. It can also produce more complex parts than traditional manufacturing methods, while its potential for small-batch production enables greater customization and shorter product cycles.

The next manufacturing revolution?

But there’s more. As well as being advantageous to manufacturers, AM could be about to spark a revolution in our entire approach to manufacturing. For instance, by enabling the production of highly complex parts in just a single piece, AM opens up a whole new world of design possibilities. As it becomes more widely adopted, designing with these possibilities in mind will become the norm.

Even more excitingly, AM could democratize the design process. As tools like 3D printers and CAD software become less expensive, design and manufacturing will become more accessible to a greater range of consumers and businesses. This shift can already be seen in the ‘maker movement’ and prosumerism. And with technological developments, the quality and scalability of these products will only increase.

One crucial component

Nevertheless, for this AM revolution to become a reality, we’ll need one important thing: strong materials characterization. Because AM processes normally have fixed parameters, inconsistent material properties result in inconsistent finished component properties. And for AM to become the new manufacturing standard, it needs to deliver goods of consistently high quality. Indeed, lack of standardization, limited material selection, and weak mechanical properties are currently some of the biggest barriers to wider adoption of AM.

Material characterization helps solve these issues. How? By using it to analyze their raw materials, manufacturers can then optimize these materials for the specific AM process used. In this way, material characterization helps prevent common issues such as cracking, distortion, weakness, and poor surface finishes. This is especially important for metal powder bed AM, where a particularly large number of factors affect final component quality.

Solutions for the future

To support manufacturers with material characterization, we offer several solutions. For instance, to enable accurate particle size and shape analysis, we provide a range of laser diffraction and automated imaging systems. These support manufacturers to ensure a spherical shape and good size distribution in their metal powder particles. In turn, this helps them achieve strong flowability, powder bed density, melt energy, and surface finishes in the final component.

We also offer X-ray fluorescence (XRF) solutions to facilitate chemical composition analysis. With this floor-standing and benchtop XRF systems, manufacturers can analyze the elemental composition of their alloys and check for impurities. Several manufacturers are already using our solutions for this, helping them to avoid issues such as cracking.

Last but not least, our X-ray diffraction (XRD) solutions enable accurate analysis of microstructure: the crystalline phases and grain structures within powder particles. Our XRD systems support manufacturers in analyzing and optimizing the microstructure of their powder. In turn, this lets them deliver strong mechanical properties in their final manufactured components – such as strength, fatigue response, and surface finish.

In short, with these solutions, manufacturers can ensure that their AM-manufactured parts perform as effectively as possible. In this way, we’re helping drive the wider adoption of AM across numerous industries, applications, and regions. A new world of prosumerism, efficient design, and high-performance AM products is just around the corner!

Written by: John Duffy, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)


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