Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM)

Recently, I have attended several events where additive layer manufacturing (ALM) has been a prominent topic of the presentations. ALM is effectively 3D printing in metals and is still in its infancy. There is an inconsistency in the powder that is the consumable used, but this is slowly being addressed. One of the more interesting concepts was the use of NDT, typically radiographic techniques, for the inspection of the component as it is being manufactured. This allows the flaws to be detected as they occur and the remedial work to commence immediately, before further resources are spent on the manufacturing process. If a potential void becomes apparent with NDT, the manufacturing can be stopped and the void rectified before the remaining part of the component is manufactured. With this ability to see potential flaws as they occur, and the ability to repair during the manufacturing, the amount of waste can be significantly reduced. One of the other problems relates to the software used to control the ALM process, which, if it contains flaws, will affect the final component.

Another interesting application of ALM is in the repair of existing components, as the technique can make very specific depositions in the damaged area. Using this technique, components that would otherwise have been scrapped can be reused, providing they prove to be acceptable with the subsequent NDT testing.

The same technology is being used in the medical world, where a multi-channelled conduit that is acceptable to a body can be inserted between broken nerve endings, encouraging the nerves to re-grow and re-join. At this presentation there was no mention of NDT as such, but enhanced visual inspection was being used extensively.

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