We've reported before on research conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to develop safety certification for 3D printing materials emissions. Turns out that's not all the company is working on: Research like this is only one of four major initiatives by UL aimed at 3D printing (3DP) and additive manufacturing (AM).
The company is also working on initiatives around advanced professional training and certification, equipment and materials, and insuring the quality and safety of 3DP applications, Simin Zhou, vice president of digital technologies, told Design News.
Zhou said that professional certification and training is one of the biggest challenges in AM. UL's effort here addresses the fact that there's no really good professional training available. "How do companies design for additive manufacturing? How do they do proper material and process selection? How can they ensure quality and safety? How do they get professional certification?" she said. "For example, if I want to produce a 3D-printed prototype, that doesn't mean I know how to produce a 3D-printed knee replacement. There's really nothing that addresses that problem well." As a start, UL has issued a compliance guideline for outlining how to approach producing medical equipment with AM.
This compliance guideline issued by UL for outlining how to approach producing medical equipment with additive manufacturing (AM) is part of a UL initiative aimed at improving 3D printing and AM workforce training and certification.
"From our perspective, we want to make sure the workforce is qualified to do what they need to do," said Zhou. "We believe this will be significant for this industry." The three-tier curriculum includes a hands-on foundation of 3DP courses available now. The second tier covers technical and economics training for 3DP. This is a comprehensive curriculum that addresses additive manufacturing processes and materials selection quality and safety, as well as the actual economics of 3DP. Both Tier 1 and Tier 2 courses are being offered in the US, Europe, and Asia, in the offices of either UL or its partners.
The third-tier curriculum is being conducted at UL's new Additive Manufacturing Competency Center at the University of Louisville, KY. This flagship center was launched in May and will offer training for metals, ceramics, and other high-end materials AM, as well as application-specific training beginning this fall. This training, aimed at established AM technical and business professionals, will look at topics such as how to do AM for medical devices, including applicable regulations. The center will join the university's global advanced manufacturing campus, the Institute for Product Realization, and collaborate and share knowledge with other corporate residents including GE and Local Motors' FirstBuild. UL expects to develop a formal workforce AM certification program during 2016 to help designers, engineers, and operators expand from traditional manufacturing techniques into AM techniques.
The third tier curriculum in UL's comprehensive three-tier training program is being conducted at UL's new Additive Manufacturing Competency Center at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.
UL is doing R&D and advanced training at the Global Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Singapore, also launched in May."We have a small team there now, looking at the key challenges of materials and process validation for application purposes," said Zhou. "For example, say you have Ti-64 powder from three different vendors, which isn't exactly the same. Because you are melting the material those different characteristics can have an impact on the final part." UL trained the team in the first-tier course earlier this year and the second-tier course began there in August. The new center is supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board. Besides advanced training, it will also focus on material and process validation programs, advisory services, and research to support both local and global AM industries and inform standards development.
The focus in all of this training is not just safety, it's also about technology, but with a focus on quality and safety, said Zhou. "Because the technology changes so much, we expect to do this correctly so we will have to update pieces of the course content every 6-12 months. Right now there are four courses available within the three tiers. Next year, we expect to add two new courses and are developing even more." As recently announced, America Makes supports UL's AM training program and is promoting it to their 140-plus members. UL will also create customized learning modules that address the hands-on training requirements of individual America Makes projects. The entire training curriculum, including schedules is available here.
Under its equipment & materials initiative, UL has published an equipment safety guideline outlining applicable standards for 3DP depending on use and materials.
In equipment and materials, UL has already published a manufacturing equipment safety guideline outlining applicable standards for 3DP depending on use and materials. "Existing standards address the hazards of these machines, which should be complied with," Zhou said. "If there are any gaps that require new standards, the first step we do is research to understand the science behind the problem, and then research to determine what's needed to address the problem. We are working with key manufacturers around the world to meet the existing requirements and applicable standards." This and the medical equipment guideline, plus other 3DP/AM materials, can be downloaded from UL's online libary.
UL representatives also sit on other standards bodies. "We want to understand the health issues of these products," said Zhou. "As part of that, we looked at materials, which is a complex topic. Depending on the specific material there is different legislation that companies making materials must comply with, so we are going through the process with providers to understand the best way to help them meet various chemical legislation."
MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: UL Working on Safety Certification for 3DP Materials Emissions
There are long-term challenges in the third area, insuring the quality and safety of specific 3DP applications, that require a lot of rethinking, said Zhou. "If, say, you want to 3D print a toy, are there already toy regulations in place you need to comply with? How can you test the product? The problem is, if you start producing 1 to 100 pieces of something, you can't test at that small quantity both economically and fast enough to keep up with how quickly the total landscape changes."
A lot of UL's work thus ends up helping manufacturers understand that they not only have to meet existing regulations, but also think about the future state of compliance. "What is the compliance framework that's necessary in that future state?" said Zhou. "Today, manufacturing is product-oriented. Moving forward, we must be more process- and people-oriented, more workforce- and system-oriented, since we can't test every unique piece coming out. So we've been putting together best practices to get the discussion going, and are already doing some of the systematization work with companies, including both product manufacturers and equipment manufacturers."
MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 3DP in End-Production: What's It Gonna Take?
We’re heading to Philly and Houston! Design & Manufacturing Philadelphia will take place Oct. 7-8, while Design & Manufacturing Texas will be in Houston Oct. 13-14. Get up close with the latest design and manufacturing technologies, meet qualified suppliers for your applications, and expand your network. Learn from experts at educational conferences and specialty events. Register today for our premier industry showcases in Philadelphia and Texas!
Ann R. Thryft is senior technology editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 27 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.