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GE Patents Have a Novel Ear for Validating 3D Printing Quality

Posted on June 7th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

Airbus conventional versus additive part

Image by Airbus via

3D printing may have revolutionized part design and manufacture, but uses a deposition process sensitive to consistent material delivery. By ‘listening’ to parts during the additive manufacturing cycle, engineers at GE have devised a new method of assuring parts are free from defects and voids which could cause premature failure.

As reported by 3D Printing Industry, GE has been granted two separate patents in May of this year for acoustic monitoring methods of additive manufacturing processes. Both patents introduce an inspection method for additive manufacturing using an acoustic wave for non-contact measurement, however US 20170146488 pertains to measurement of energy generated by the weld pool while US 20170146489 measures displacement of the build surface. Both methods create a non-destructive inspection process for in-situ quality assurance of parts fabricated by 3D printing that saves time and cost over traditional methods. Parts created through additive manufacturing are typically inspected in a separate, dedicated step following manufacture.

The process of acoustic monitoring is not new and has been used for many years in a variety of applications including industrial bearing lubrication monitoring, boiler pipe leaks, bridge wire breakage, and even remote monitoring of patients in the healthcare industry. It is a mature, proven technology so a good fit for application in additive manufacturing.

The GE process like other applications of acoustic monitoring utilizes a wave signature of a known good part. Relatime data is compared to the control signature to detect anomalies like cracks or voids. The following video shared by Nikolaas Van Reit provides a more detailed overview:

Quality assurance is an important part of manufacturing in all industries, but takes on critical importance in industries such as automotive or aerospace where part failures can risk lives. Novel inspection methods such as that proposed by GE can eliminate dedicated inspection steps while enable faster times to market. It is far more efficient and cost-effective to catch errors in process rather than after the fact. As a manufacturer, I wonder what other interesting stories we can learn by following GE’s lead and listening to our parts?

What nondestructive testing methods does your company use in manufacturing its product line? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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