One essential aspect in establishing additive manufacturing in industrial production is ensuring a high and reproducible quality of the printed components. The quality of the components is determined by the homogeneity and defect free microstructure as well as by the adherence to a narrow band of dimensional tolerances and a low surface roughness. The same material properties must be achieved as using conventional production processes.
In comparison with conventional forming processes, 3D printed components show more fluctuations in green density, which has a negative effect on the mechanical properties of the finished components. The microstructure of additive-manufactured components is examined at Fraunhofer-Center HTL on a submicrometers to millimeters scale. The homogeneity of the microstructure is quantitatively recorded and evaluated by variance analyses (Publication: Investigation of Sintering Mechanism). Special electron microscopy and tomographic methods are used, which were developed for the characterization of conventionally produced green bodies. Based on the evaluation, measures for the optimization of the additive manufacturing processes are derived. This includes, improving the feedstocks, adjusting the printing parameters, optimizing the heat treatment or modifying the production equipment.
Even during the heat treatment of the printed components, various quality problems can occur, e.g. the introduction of defects during debinding (Publication: In Situ Investigation of Debinding) or distortion of shape during sintering (Publication: Simulation of Sintering). In the latter case, the geometry and dimensions of components diverge from the specifications. The distortion can be caused by various factors such as gravity, frictional forces or density and temperature gradients. For optimization of heat treatment processes, systematic tools are used at Fraunhofer-Center HTL (Publication: Sustainable heating processes / available on request). This ensures a reproducible and high quality of the components with low rates of waste. At the same time, the heat treatment processes are optimized concerning duration and energy efficiency (Publication: Radical Time Reduction of Debinding Processes) to save costs and achieve an improvement of the environmental balance.
The structure and quality of surfaces of additively manufactured components can be tested using various methods. An evaluation of their influence on the component properties is possible with FE simulations. Accordingly, damage-inducing stress concentrations at the component surface are identified and measures developed for their minimization. If necessary, free-form surfaces of green bodies, intermediate products or sintered components can be reworked using a 5-axis machining center.