Traditional quality control in manufacturing involves sampling a percentage of products as they roll off the line to make sure they are made to specifications. But what about small-batch, customized parts that can be produced with 3D printing? Joseph Newkirk, professor of materials science and engineering, is part of a team developing quality-control methods for advanced manufacturing in small numbers – even one-offs – to ensure parts meet expectations.
“One of the things we do is video the process,” says Newkirk. “A video produces a lot of information, and we ask a computer to learn how to identify problems. Then we take apart the manufactured item to determine what the computer got right and what it got wrong.”
Newkirk says one way to check the computer’s work is to look at the product with X-ray tomography to see if there’s a problem. Researchers correlate the scan to the video and use the information to improve the computer’s ability to discriminate between proper production and a problem.
Newkirk says that with the new method, manufacturers don’t have to sacrifice any samples to see if products are good. They can watch while the product is made and know that it’s okay.
“We’re working on all the aspects together so that 3D printed parts can be qualified one at a time,” he says.
Newkirk adds that additive manufacturing materials for 3D printing need to be more robust and less sensitive to equipment model and process errors. The technology lends itself to very complicated designs that would be difficult to take apart and check for flaws. Newkirk is developing miniaturized test samples and new test methods to test a part’s structure to possibly determine when, where and how a structure will fail. One way to do that is to develop a digital twin to track a part’s performance from creation to end-of-use.
“Missouri S&T has the breadth and depth to handle extensive projects,” says Newkirk. “We tend to be able to work on all aspects of the research, even though we’re not all working on the same piece at the same time.”
Newkirk says the project is one of about a half-dozen current MSE research projects that will benefit advanced manufacturing. Newkirk hopes the research will contribute to upcoming work at Missouri S&T’s new Protoplex, which is scheduled for completion in September 2025.