3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing: Metal Powder Bed Density Test Equipment

From Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

This ISC challenge is sponsored by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and seeks new solutions to enable the testing of metal powder bed density in additive manufacturing processes.

Sponsoring Department: National Research Council of Canada

Funding Mechanism: Contract

Opening date: February 19, 2018
Closing date: March 20, 2018, 14:00 Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)

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Challenge

Problem statement

NRC has been involved in the development and qualification of powders for more than 30 years and supports a cluster of powder producers around Montreal. Having access to a tool capable to measure metal powder bed density would help NRC to contribute further into this research field and support the development in this area for the Canadian industry.

Producing parts of consistent quality is a significant challenge in 3D printing (i.e. additive manufacturing) and a lot of effort is being made by the industry and the research community to improve the quality and reproducibility of the technology. In metal 3D printers, parts are built layer by layer by preferentially melting powder with a laser. Each layer of powder is applied by a mobile device called a "recoater arm". One of the key aspects of such a process is the packing density of these powder bed layers. The packing density of these layers is influenced by several factors such as: 1) powder characteristics and behavior, 2) recoater design, 3) recoated operation and 4) environmental conditions.

To optimise the recoating operation and ensure part quality, it is essential to quantify the impact of the influencing factors on the powder bed packing density. While different standards exist to quantify powder flowability and density, there is presently no equipment available to test the powder under conditions replicating the 'recoating' process.

Desired outcomes & considerations

This challenge seeks to obtain such test equipment which must be able to reproduce the recoating operation and measure the density of the resulting powder layers. Because the equipment could be used for research and development (R&D) as well as broader commercial applications (i.e. for quality control purposes), the possibility to vary the influencing factors in a controlled manner is therefore mandatory. This challenge must result in a test equipment, addressing specific R&D needs of NRC as well as broader needs for quality control in the industry.

Principle of operation:

The equipment should be equipped with a 'recoater arm' that spreads a certain quantity of powder over a working area. It is believed that a gravimetric means could be used to measure the density. The weight of the powder layer, or a portion of it, could be evaluated using a load measuring device such as a scale.

Ultimately, it should be possible to make a series of successive layers and continue to measure the evolution of the density. Optical sensors could also be considered to qualify the powder layers (ex.: thickness, presence of defects, variation of density or uniformity). Suggestions for other measuring strategies are welcome.

Sensitivity:

The equipment must have a sensitivity of at least 0,2% of the relative density of the metal to be coated. The powder layer has to be of constant thickness and provision shall be made in the design and the operation manual to measure its thickness and adjust the recoater arm position when required.

Versatility:

It should be possible to control the following features:

Powder layer thickness (20-200µm)

Metal powder deposition mechanism:

  • coating speed/ Recoater arm speed
  • Angle of attack of the blade
  • Cylindrical coating blade action (rotating or not, ideally)
  • Oscillating blade

Atmosphere surrounding the powder: air, N2, Ar, vacuum

Static electricity (potential use of an ionisation blower)

Other actions or conditions that reproduce present commercial 3D printers

Data acquisition and instrumentation:

The equipment must be computer controlled and all parameters must be stored in result files. Extra space above the experimental chamber should be available for a possible retrofit with a camera (or other optic system) to film the coating operation and capture the visual aspect of the bed or characterise its surface.

Health & Safety:

The equipment must allow a safe manipulation of powders. It must be easy to clean to prevent cross-contamination.

Background & context

Additive manufacturing (AM) technologies have recently generated world-wide interest as they provide flexibility and allow the production of complex parts that cannot be easily produced with other fabrication processes. These technologies have recently evolved into production processes in various industrial sectors including medical, aerospace, and automotive. In order to increase the penetration of AM technologies, a number of technical issues must be addressed. One of these is the quality and cost of the metal powder feedstock which affects the economics of the process, as well as the management and control of the quality and reproducibility of the manufactured parts.

One of the key parameters in managing the quality of the parts is the production of defect free powder layers with uniform and constant packing density during printing. This can be achieved by selecting an appropriate powder, optimising the recoating arm design and optimising recoating operation parameters. These optimisations would benefit from the measurements of the impact of fabrication conditions on the powder bed packing density. Moreover, in operations where recycling is permitted, machine users need a means to measure the quality of the powder as they are recycled.

One of the needs to improve AM processes is also the development of numerical models to predict powder deposition. The reliability of the models depend on their calibration using key powder bed attributes measured under conditions representative to those observed in 3D printing machines.

Van den Eynde et al (2015) have built laboratory equipment specifically to measure the density of plastic powder bed. Although they proposed a very inspiring design, it is not commercially available and cannot be used with metal powders. Bidare et al (2017) presented an open architecture metal 3D printer. This equipment allows characterising the powder bed using x-Ray and high speed cameras but does not allow measuring the packing density of the powder bed.

The product to be developed in this challenge must target academic and R&D institutions. The equipment will require some sophistication, with the ability to allow several parameters to be modified and should be equipped with precise instrumentation. Furthermore, it should be possible to easily modify the equipment for broader use and adoption by 3D printer users and powder manufacturers.

Please refer to the tender notice for this challenge on Buy and Sell.

Maximum value and travel

Maximum contract value:

Multiple contracts can result from this Challenge.

The maximum funding available for any Phase 1 Contract resulting from this Challenge is $150,000.00 CAD (plus tax) including shipping, travel and living expenses, as applicable.

The maximum funding available for any Phase 2 Contract resulting from this Challenge is $500,000.00 CAD (plus tax) including shipping, travel and living expenses, as applicable. Only eligible businesses that have completed Phase 1 could be considered for Phase 2.

This disclosure is made in good faith and does not commit Canada to contract for the total approximate funding.

Travel: For Phase 1 it is anticipated that up to two meetings may require the successful bidder(s) to travel to:

National Research Council of Canada
75 Boulevard de Mortagne
Boucherville, QC
J4B 6Y4

Eligibility

Solution proposals can only be submitted by a small business that meets all of the following criteria:

  • for profit
  • incorporated in Canada (federally or provincially)
  • 499 or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employeesFootnote *
  • research and development activities that take place in Canada
  • 50% or more of its annual wages, salaries and fees are currently paid to employees and contractors who spend the majority of their time working in CanadaFootnote *
  • 50% or more of its FTE employees have Canada as their ordinary place of workFootnote *
  • 50% or more of its senior executives (Vice President and above) have Canada as their principal residenceFootnote *

Application guide

All federal departments and agencies that issue ISC challenges, regardless of whether they use a grant or a contract as the financial instrument to support research and development (R&D) in Phases 1 and 2, will assess proposals and bids from small businesses based on standard questions. The online application and bid submission system will contain these standard questions and provide guidance on the length of responses.

Assessment process

Once a complete application or bid is submitted, it will be sent to the department and agency that issued the challenge as well as to the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) for assessment. It is the prerogative of the challenge sponsoring department or agency to decide which businesses will receive funding for Phase 1. All businesses that submit an application or bid will receive feedback.

In advance of accepting applications and bids from eligible businesses, the following is meant to provide guidance to businesses on what could be asked as part of the application and bid submission process. The information below may be used to evaluate proposals and is subject to change.

Innovation

  • Please be prepared to identify the starting technology readiness level (TRL) of the solution and the anticipated TRL at the completion of Phase 1. Reminder, Phase 1 is meant for solutions in the TRL range from 1 to 4.
  • Be prepared to describe the novelty of your solution and how it advances the state-of-the-art over existing technologies, including competing solutions. Include in your description the scientific and technological basis upon which your solution is proposed.
  • Be prepared to identify what are the key scientific and technical risks facing your solution and how those risks would be addressed in Phase 1.

Benefits to Canada

  • Please be prepared to provide a brief description of your proposed solution and how it addresses the problem identified by the department or agency that issued the challenge statement.
  • Be prepared to describe the benefits to Canada that could result from the successful development of your solution, with a focus on three types of benefits: Economic Benefits, Innovation Benefits, Public Benefits.

Economic Benefits: Consider the proposed solution's potential impact on the growth of your firm but other firms in Canada more broadly. This could include the development of new clusters and supply chains. Consideration should be given to the number of jobs created, number of high-paying jobs, project-related revenue growth, etc.

Innovation Benefits: Consider the proposed solution's expected contribution towards the enhancement or development of new industrial or technological innovation within your firm. For example, potential spillover benefits, creation of intellectual property, impact on productivity of the new technology, etc.

Public Benefits: Consider the proposed solution's expected contribution to the broader Canadian public, including but not limited to inclusive business and hiring practices (e.g., gender balance), investment in skills and training and the environment.

Management and technological capability

  • Please be prepared to identify the work plan for Phase 1 including key milestones and activities anticipated, the total time foreseen to complete Phase 1 (not more than 6 months), resources required to complete the project and the key success criteria.
  • Be prepared to identify the potential project risks (e.g., financial, project management, human resources, etc.) to the successful development of the solution and how those risks would be managed in Phase 1.
  • Be prepared to provide a brief description of the project implementation team including specific members, partners, their roles and responsibilities, and how their expertise is relevant to the project. The team members must include a Project lead.
  • Be prepared to describe what your business is doing to encourage greater inclusivity in its innovation activities. One of the objectives of the program is to encourage greater participation of under-represented groups (e.g., women, Indigenous people, youth, persons with disabilities, visible minorities) in the innovation economy.

Financial capability

  • Please be prepared to provide a financial proposal for R&D in Phase 1. Be sure to check the details of each challenge posting which will indicate the maximum funding available for Phase 1 as well as any eligible or ineligible costs.
  • In addition, please be prepared to provide information on funding received from other orders of government (i.e., federal, provincial and municipal) for the same work being proposed in your application or submission.
  • Please be prepared to describe the financial controls and oversight that your business has in place to manage public funds if selected to proceed into Phase 1.

Commercialization

  • Please be prepared to describe how you envision the commercialization of your solution and how potential risks or barriers to further commercialization would be mitigated.

Application guide

Questions and answers

Please visit Buy and Sell for all Questions and Answers related to this challenge.

Please visit Buy and Sell for all Questions and Answers related to the Call for Proposals.

If you have a question about a challenge, please send it to ISED-ISDE@canada.ca.

You can also consult the Frequently asked questions about the Innovation Solutions Program.

A glossary is also available.

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