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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Sigma Labs Teams With America Makes For Innovating 3D Metal Printing In Aviation

January 22nd, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

This week Sigma Labs a developer of advanced, in process, non-destructive quality inspection systems for metal-based additive manufacturing and other advanced manufacturing technologies, announced that it has been granted its first contract, worth approximately $500,000, from GE Aviation. The company was previously announced as a member of the winning team of companies and universities awarded an “America Makes” additive manufacturing (AM) research project. This project is funded by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) and covers Sigma Labs’ proprietary In-Process Quality Assurance (IPQA) software for advanced AM monitoring.

The contract will implement the Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D technology across multiple platforms, specifically those requiring high-volume, high-quality aerospace components. Over the next 18 months Sigma Labs is expected to deploy a total of three systems – one each to GE Aviation and to other team members Honeywell and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The Story Behind Sigma Labs

“We are very pleased to announce this first contract under our previously-announced award with NAMII,” said Mark Cola, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sigma Labs. “Working with some of the best known companies in the industry, including GE Aviation and Honeywell, we will use this project to further demonstrate our PrintRite3D technology and provide for additional data collection. We believe awards such as this open up the way for business development opportunities and, at the same time, strengthen Sigma Labs’ position in the nascent yet rapidly-growing AM space.”

Sigma Labs through its wholly-owned subsidiary, B6 Sigma, develops and engineers advanced, in-process, non-destructive quality inspection systems for organizations worldwide seeking solutions for metal-based additive manufacturing or 3D printing, and other advanced manufacturing technologies.

Additive Manufacturing at GE Aviation

For those not familiar with Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D , it is a suite of methodologies, modeling, and analytical tools for rapidly and relatively inexpensively certifying and qualifying metallic aircraft components produced using additive manufacturing technologies.

B6 Sigma’s real-time monitoring and control technology for additive manufacturing technologies provide a rapid and low cost approach to metallic aerospace part certification & qualification.

The PrintRite3D technology suite includes (or will include):

  • PrintRite3D INSPECT – software for OEM’s and end users of additive manufacturing processes that verifies quality layer by layer, mm2 by mm2.
  • PrintRite3D SENSOR PAK – an auxiliary hardware kit that collects data to drive the software on AM machines.
  • PrintRite3D DEFORM – (in development with Honeywell Aerospace) software that predicts distortion and calculates the pre-shape that results in an optimized final shape.
  • PrintRite3D ANALYTICS – (in development) software for AM data management.
  • PrintRite3D THERMAL – (concept) software that predicts the thermal profile in a part.

Based in Youngstown, Ohio, America Makes is a growing network of more than 100 companies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies from all over the U.S. America Makes was founded in August 2012 as the flagship institute for other National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) institutes and is driven by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM). Additionally, America Makes is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Introduction to America Makes

America Makes is focused on helping the United States grow capabilities and strength in 3D printing and additive manufacturing. It facilitates collaboration among leaders from business, academia, non-profit organizations and government agencies. Focusing on areas that include design, materials, technology, workforce and more, the goal of America Makes is to make our nation’s 3D printing industry become more globally competitive.

Virtually since its inception, Sigma Labs has been popular among 3D printing speculators, but until recently, hasn’t had a whole lot tangible to show for its efforts, although the company has announced marketing and partnership agreements for commercializing its technologies.

The company seems to have changed focus and direction over the course of its life, even considering purchasing a metal 3D printer they said would allow them to “enter a new manufacturing phase.” Rather than continuing to pursue a continually changing business focus and becoming a 3D printing bureau, investors were insistent on seeing progress made towards commercializing PrintRite 3D.

While over the past year quite a few press releases were issued concerning memorandums of understanding, technology cooperation agreements, joint technology agreements, and another private placement to raise funding and further dilute shareholders, there still was no product that had reached commercialization.

That changed, though, in September 2014 when the company announced the formal release of its PrintRite3D INSPECT quality assurance software. At the time, the company said it was actively speaking with potential users for the software application. Tangible reality seems to have struck with the announcement this week.

“This is the first in a series of product releases planned for 2014 and 2015 that will provide exceptional levels of quality assurance to the 3D printing industry – particularly for critical, high-tolerance metal parts required in the aerospace and defense and biomedical fields,” said Mark Cola, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sigma Labs. “We are proud to offer this product as a stand-alone, platform-independent module that can immediately add value to any 3D printing platform, and we are also having discussions with several 3D equipment and software OEMs to achieve additional levels of integration in the future. In particular, we are working with Materialise NV on a client/server version of our software. The Company’s PrintRite3D DEFORM software, which is a geometric in-process inspection tool, is still under development and expected to be released in early 2015. Well, it’s early 2015, and we haven’t heard a definitive word on the release of this product.

Sigma Labs’ realizes it has an uphill battle, even with the progress that has been made.

Mark Cola, the President of Sigma Labs, acknowledges, “it is much more difficult to 3D-print metal parts than plastic parts because they must meet very demanding engineering specifications. The company is betting on its PrintRite3D suite of QA tools that we expect will enable AM manufacturers to meet the rigorous requirements of metal parts for critical applications, and allow end users to use AM metal parts with confidence.”

Obviously, easier said than done, but with the help of its newest partnerships and the contract award, Sigma Labs looks like it might finally be poised to make good on its promise for 3D metal printing.

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