COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of life, accelerating changes in everything from simple daily tasks to traditional key business models; citizens worldwide are preparing for a new normal. In addition to vast social ramifications, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility and complicated nature of both manufacturing and supply chains as well as their susceptibility to disruption from disease, political unrest, or natural disaster.
Out of necessity, manufacturers in the new normal will build factories much closer to where critical parts are needed, reduce the human workforce, and rely more on software and efficiency technologies like 3D printing. At the epicentre of this sea of change is Sigma Labs Inc., with its revolutionary patented technology that detects and identifies defects and anomalies in real-time during the 3D printing process of metal, paving the way for scalability and economic efficiency.
Amazon.com Inc. has created a blueprint for consumer supply chain evolution, proving the importance of bringing outputs closer to where they are needed. Microsoft Corp. has turned its software prowess toward 3D printing in a consortium that has created a modern manufacturing 3D printing file format, 3MF. For additive manufacturing, this new format replaces older file formats and eliminates many interoperability issues.
Software behemoth Autodesk Inc. makes a broad range of 3D software tools, essential for rapid prototyping and industrial manufacturing, for almost every industry. Engineering simulation software from ANSYS Inc. allows innovation to flow smoothly through design, testing and into 3D printing manufacturing. Software and technology are becoming increasingly important as the world grapples with how to reinvent social interaction and commerce in the post pandemic era.
3D Metal Printing: The Promise and Challenge
Almost daily news reports attest to the speed, agility, and efficiency of 3D printing to create and deliver desperately needed healthcare equipment and devices. Additive manufacturing (AM) is proving in real time that it speeds production, allows flexibility, and brings new ideas to market quicker at lower cost.
Though 3D printing of plastics and polymers has moved easily into the mainstream, and home printers now sell for under $300, 3D metal printing is proving to be a horse of a different colour. Commercial 3D metal printing is gaining vital importance in the entire global manufacturing sector—yet the efficiency it yields is not without challenges. A myriad of variables from machines to materials create production hurdles in metal additive manufacturing. 3D metal part manufacturing continuously welds 10- to 30-micron layers of powdered metal together with a laser to sculpt a final three-dimensional product. Like something from science fiction, a machine is actually creating the metal of a part while simultaneously forming the shape of the part.
As amazing as this process is, metal additive manufacturers lack any assurance that each newly formed part meets precise specifications in every 10-micron layer of a 3D part. As a result, 3D metal printing manufacturers have been forced to rely on costly and time-consuming post-production inspection techniques such as CT scan inspection—which are effective, but also extremely costly.
To meet the supply chain demands of the new normal, achieve high quality volume yields and slash post-production inspection costs, the quality assurance problem in 3D metal manufacturing requires a solution. Third party in-process quality assurance is critical to the adoption and acceleration of metal AM and imperative to adaptation of the new normal of global manufacturing.
Sigma Labs’ Solution
With its patented PrintRite3D software, Sigma Labs presents a solution to the costly quality-control challenges that impede the volume manufacture of precision 3D metal parts. In doing so, Sigma Lab’s software could easily become indispensable in the global efforts to meet the manufacturing challenges of post COVID. The company’s breakthrough software has the potential to bolster and broaden commercial metal additive manufacturing by enabling for the first time cost-effective, non-destructive quality assurance during the production process. PrintRite3D is the leading technology in identifying and classifying defects and anomalies in-process and allows for errors to be corrected in real-time—even remotely.
From its inception by scientists at Los Alamos, Sigma Labs has led the world in developing software that addresses serious quality assurance issues in metal additive manufacturing and has become the leading provider of in-process, quality assurance software to the commercial 3D metal printing industry. Sigma Labs’ breakthrough software looks to be the missing element to fully enable commercial additive metal manufacturing at scale. The company has rocketed from beta development and third-party validation of efficacy to engaging multiple beta customers with some of the biggest names in industry, to use in prestigious universities and R&D institutes, and now to commercialization in an untapped market estimated at over $2 billion dollars.
Sigma Labs has surrounded its IP portfolio with 34 issued and pending patents both domestically and across the globe. These patents encompass the fundamental technologies underlying Sigma Labs’ melt-pool process control, data analytics, anomaly detection, signature identification and future closed-loop-control of 3D metal printing.
Many believe that Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D is the singular solution the additive manufacturing industry needs. PrintRite3D integrates inspection, feedback, data collection and critical analysis into a unified platform. Unheard of before in the industry, PrintRite3D uniquely leverages thermal signatures to monitor the quality of each product part in the production process, layer by layer and in real time. This allows operators to correct or stop production of a defective part, even remotely, which results in reduced error rates and higher yields and scalability. This incredibly sophisticated and powerful technology may play a key role in the new normal post-pandemic era.
Confluence of Opportunity and Circumstance
3D printing was already posting an astounding CAGR of nearly 30 percent before the world was beset by this virus, and with the impending shifts in supply chain strategy, it’s hard to imagine that 3D printing won’t expand at even greater rates. Industry 4.0 has been underway, and 3D printing remains at the forefront of the $100 trillion-dollar technological transformation, accelerating the confluence of digital, biological, and physical innovations across the planet. The circumstances of this virus will only expedite industry and societal adoption of these transformations.
Sigma Labs enjoys a significant technological lead with formidable barriers of entry, which effectively impedes any potential competition. The company has established strategic partnerships, surrounded the IP with patents and is laser focused on the opportunity ahead. Interestingly, Sigma Lab’s unique business model accelerates both revenue growth and profitability in direct correlation to the explosive industry growth of additive manufacturing. Sigma Labs’ technology is a critical component in a major disruptive industry and has been validated across all major customer segments.
Sigma Lab’s functionality and coverage of 3D printers as well as the depth and breadth of its market footprint are as yet unmatched in the industry by any other third-party solution. The company has identified an addressable market in 2021–2027 of approximately $2 billion and is well on the way to achieving its strategy and mission statement to accelerate the adoption of AM and become the de facto standard for third-party in-process quality assurance of metal 3D printing.
As suppliers continue to seek ways to improve the efficiency of their supply chains while maintaining a strong bottom line, potentially moving production centres closer to distribution outlets, 3D metal printing’s capability and promise have the potential to resonate with industries of all kinds. Sigma Lab’s revolutionary software could prove crucial to reducing time and cost of product development, qualification, and post-processing quality assurance as factories of the future respond to the challenges of the times.
Business in the New Normal
Amazon has already done much to change the shape of supply chains. Its movement of distribution centres closer to the consumer reflects some of the benefits of 3D printing by producing products closer to where needed. This has allowed Amazon incredible efficiencies, leading to next-day, same-day, and even two-hour delivery of products. Its efficient delivery service has made Amazon a critical resource for many during the COVID-19 crisis.
Software giant Microsoft has extensive experience with supply chain interruption and 3D printing, even before the virus made its presence felt in the United States. Microsoft was hit early on by the effects of the virus in China and the measures needed to control it. Microsoft also invested in the technology several years ago, indicating its confidence in the potential of 3D printing in manufacturing.
Autodesk describes its work as making software for people who make things. The company makes a broad range of 3D software tools for almost every industry, essential for rapid prototyping and industrial manufacturing. Its recent alliance with Aurigo Software provides integrated solutions for the design, manufacture, and production of everything from towering skyscrapers to tiny gadgets. One of six companies creating the Large Additive Subtractive Integrated Modular Machine (LASIMM), one of the world’s largest hybrid manufacturing machines, Autodesk is rapidly bringing 3D printing up to industrial scale across multiple components and sectors.
ANSYS develops multi-physics engineering simulation software for product design, testing and operation. By simulating the performance of products under stress, its software exposes weaknesses in designs, significantly reducing the time and cost involved in bringing production online. Using its products for a complete simulation workflow can help companies move additive metal production from R&D to successful manufacturing operations. Sigma Labs looks to integrate its QA software with ANSYS’s simulation software, to further improve this workflow.
As the world continues to witness the disruption of traditional business models due to the fallout from COVID-19, technological innovations will play an increasingly important role in adjusting to the new normal.
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