Additive Manufacturing Standards
As additive manufacturing continues to grow, standards have followed.
With the growth in additive manufacturing, standards have not been far behind. Today organizations such as ASTM International and ISO are working together to coordinate standards related to materials, processes, equipment and finished parts in industries such as aerospace, medical devices and automotive. Experts explain how the development process works, how standards can help the industry, and what to expect in the future.
Standards are in the industry’s best interests, says Terry Wohlers, principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates Inc. “It is something that’s difficult to quantify. It’s a little bit like: imagine every time you went to plug something into the wall it didn’t work. Standards are incredibly important as rules or guidelines to play by. From that point, these standards are absolutely vital.”
“Standards are a bridge from research to market,” says Pat Picariello, ASTM International’s director of developmental operations. The ever-present question is how to get technical knowledge to the market, and standards can help. “It takes that theoretical information and turns it into practical information.”
Picariello coordinates the work of ASTM International’s F42 Committee on Additive Manufacturing Technologies. In 2009 the F42 committee had 76 members; as of September 2017 there were more than 520. “That to me is one metric,” Picariello says. “People are not going to volunteer their time on something as esoteric as standards development if it isn’t relevant.”
“The markets will continue to expand and one of the direct reasons is because of standards,” Picariello says. “The incorporation of standards in contracts, in regulations, that will definitely happen.”
Developing the Standards
“The standards development process is a slow and tedious one, dotting i’s and crossing t’s, but that’s good,” says Carl Dekker, chairman of the F42 committee and president of Met-L-Flo Inc. “Taking the time to do it right is helpful.”
In 2009, the timing for developing additive manufacturing standards was right. It was a combination of factors: both the ability to access experts and their desire to get involved.
“As this continues to grow, you get experts all over the world contributing appropriately to what matters most to them,” Dekker says. This may mean materials information or the process itself.
“These standards will really help advance additive manufacturing. They’ll make safe products that regulatory agencies will authorize,” Dekker says, whether this is the FAA or FDA. As a contract manufacturer, his company makes parts for customers and has to follow each individual specification. But now as more people begin talking the same language, educating the workforce becomes faster and easier. Another advantage is the high quality of experts who are working on drafting the standards. This brings awareness to areas that might not have previously been considered.
Wohlers was active in the first two years of the ASTM F42 committee and now is a member of the executive committee. Later ISO became involved with the organization. The ISO committee on additive manufacturing, ISO/TC 261, was formed in 2011. A few months later, ASTM and ISO signed a partnership agreement that allows for jointly developed standards between ASTM F42 on additive manufacturing technologies and ISO TC261 on additive manufacturing.
“I think it’s very good that the two organizations are working together,” Wohlers says. “In the past, standards would compete for the same groups of people and companies. We don’t want competing standards.”
The fact that ISO and ASTM agreed to co-develop and cobrand the standards was very powerful, Wohlers says. Since ISO is often a more common standards body in Europe, and ASTM in the United States, this helps to create unity.
“Standards are especially important in production; to trace the history of the materials and steps leading up to manufactured parts, you need established guidelines,” Wohlers says. “For prototyping not so much.”
“In 2009, we saw a growing number of companies express interest in standards,” Wohlers says. “The lightbulb had clicked on. They felt the need for industry standards. Much earlier than that, I think it would have been difficult to get support.”
As of September 2017 the F42 committee has approved 17 standards, with an additional 24 work items in various stages of development. An America Makes & ANSI AMSC Standardization Roadmap for Additive Manufacturing was released in February of this year, and another one is in the works, set to be released late this year or early next year. The roadmap was done with help with NIST, the Department of Defense, and the FAA, along with organizations such as ASME, IEEE, and SAE, among others.
The standards are created by volunteers who must take time away from work, and travel to meetings around the world. (The latest one took place in Sweden in September.) With such an investment in travel and expenses, companies must believe this will help the industry.
“In the future, as more companies adopt the technology and invest in it, they will use standards to help them drive their business,” Wohlers says. “Companies will develop their own standards. Some companies will do that anyway, with ISO or ASTM standards as a starting point. This will save them time and money and effort, and take them to the next step for their purpose. You can imagine if companies are doing all of it in isolation by themselves, it would be expensive and reinventing the wheel over and over again. It’s one reason that standards are so valuable.”
Though the standards can achieve quite a lot once they are developed, the process is rigorous and can be stopped with only one dissenting vote. “Imagine a group of 50 people from all over the world trying to agree on something like this, quite technical, with English not a native language,” Wohlers says. He said ASTM and ISO should be commended for their efforts: “I think it’s been tremendously good work.”
Challenges and Standards
For all the growth and success of the standards development, there are still hurdles to overcome.
The challenge is penetrating the particular industry, Picariello notes. “For every group, there are others that have yet to be enlightened.”
In addition, the divide between the standards writers and corporate management may need to be considered. “People who write standards are not responsible for the ultimate direction of a corporate entity,” Picariello notes. While engineers may use these technologies on a daily basis, company management may not understand it or embrace it to the point where they are requiring the use of standards, he says.
And of course, standards rely on a great amount of participation in the development process.
“That model drives usage in the U.S. You want people to see value early on,” Picariello says. For example, a parts manufacturer could insert clauses into contracts regarding materials used in additive manufacturing. And for those who need to comply with regulation, standards can streamline the process and allow companies to manufacture to standards. If you don’t use them, you can’t market your product.
Manufacturers would be well served to participate in the standards development process earlier rather than later. Once the standards are set, Picariello says the question then becomes, “Do you meet it or exceed it and by how much?”
Design and the Future
Additive manufacturing standards have developed technical guidelines for laser based fusion of metals and polymers. “You’ll ultimately see more activity in design, as people become more comfortable using them. One of the more interesting possibilities relative to additive is that you have almost unfettered freedom to design things,” Picariello says. This applies whether you are creating a femur or a lattice structure or light-weighting a plane. The industry will only continue to develop lighter, stronger and cheaper materials.
“Design is big,” Picariello continues. “Once the technologies hit a greater degree of comfort by the user communities, there will be a much deeper dive into the design possibilities.”
For those interested in learning more about the standards, Wohlers recommends getting involved. Anyone can participate in a meeting. You would need to be an ASTM member to vote, but you could simply show up at a meeting to learn more. If you become a member, you’d be able to vote—and your vote could have a bigger impact than you might think. As Wohlers says, “GE has one vote, you have one vote. It’s not like a big corporation can drive standards. I would urge anyone who is interested in AM to learn what it’s all about.”
“The launch pad has been set,” says Dekker. “It’s about to take off and start really moving.”