The Lloyd’s Register Foundation has previously published a foresight review in the area of structural integrity and systems performance. A key observation is that additive manufacturing of metals and other materials has the potential to enter widespread industrial use but it is important that application of this potentially disruptive technology, for components of critical infrastructure on which we all depend, does not reduce the safety or reliability of these systems. In this context the Foundation has created a roadmap to indicate the work that it believes is needed to assure safe application of the technology and also identifies the unique activities where the Foundation could make a distinctive difference.
The Foundation has no commercial interest in the development or commercialisation of the technology, such as developing a better 3D printer that is faster or cheaper. In line with our charitable purpose, the starting point for our roadmap is the ultimate aim: The safe adoption of additive manufacturing to safety-critical assets.
With this aim in mind, existing roadmaps have been reviewed and some experts in the field consulted to identify the key challenges that once developed will lead to safe adoption of the technology. Three of the challenges focus upon reducing the risk of creating parts that can fail prematurely or unexpectedly and one challenge seeks opportunities on how additive manufacturing technology can deliberately be used to improve overall safety of an asset.
The four challenges are as follows:
Qualification of technology
In general, qualification is carried out for all important items to demonstrate that the item is designed well, can in fact be built and that it safely and reliably fulfils its intended function. For parts made with traditional manufacturing techniques these requirements are widely understood with qualification taking into account this knowledge. For additive manufacturing there is limited knowledge of the process or materials, which has the consequence of meaning that there are either no qualification routes available or there is extensive additional testing required. The goal here is to work with others to develop and collate knowledge in order to be able to find safe methods of appropriate qualification.
Confidence in the supply chain
Localised manufacture from digital designs creates a number of commercial opportunities but also increases safety risks. What is most important is that critical components are made well, that correct components are installed and that any repairs carried out do not result in unexpected failure.
The goal here is to work towards: creating standardised ways of assuring that components are well made; ensuring that there are improved ways of avoiding counterfeit or rejected parts from entering service; that repairs can be relied upon; and that confidence in the supply chain is not damaged by the disruptive business opportunities that additive manufacturing will bring.
A competent and qualified workforce
Irrespective of the level of confidence in the ability of an additive manufacturing machine to be able to build a part, the function of the part will depend on the skill of the designer, and the quality of the part will depend upon the individual(s) responsible for the manufacture of the part. For a new technology such as additive manufacturing there is a need to have designers that are able to design safe and functional parts and machine operators that understand how to make the parts and know when and why problems have arisen.
The goal here is to work towards developing engineers with a fundamental level of knowledge about the process and operators who are competent enough to assure high quality parts are consistently produced.
Safety enhancements (enabled by additive manufacturing / 3D printing)
The previous challenges have focused on assuring that parts are well designed and made to be at least equivalent to current technologies. This challenge looks to how additive manufacturing can lead to improvements in reliability and safety over and above what is possible today. Opportunities exist for additive manufactured parts to be used to make systems that have fewer potential failure points and which are smarter, for example creating data about the environment they work within or providing crucial information about the parts themselves. There are also opportunities for improvement that we are only just beginning to understand.
This review looks at these challenges, both to control risks and exploit opportunities, in more detail. The purpose is to encourage others to work in these areas and for the Foundation to work with partners that can make a distinctive difference to making the world a safer place …because Life Matters.