Sigma Labs Inc. (NASDAQ: SGLB) ( SGLB Profile) is on the verge of unleashing the dynamic forces of additive metal manufacturing that have been restrained. Long heralded as the fourth industrial revolution, 3D metal printing and its full potential have been stalled due to the high cost and complexities of end-product inspection and quality control. Sigma Labs' PrintRite3D(R) software represents a seismic shift in the quality-assurance process in the manufacture of 3D-printed metal components, and the entire sector is poised for extraordinary growth. Software giant Autodesk Inc. (NASDAQ: ADSK) has aggressively moved into the space developing software across a range of uses in 3D printing. With nearly three decades of experience, Materialise NV (NASDAQ: MTLS) has integrated Sigma Labs' PrintRite3D technology with its Materialise MCP controller, and the companies will jointly demonstrate the latest version of the software platform to the global elite of additive manufacturing at the Formnext exhibition. Siemens AG (OTCPK: SIEGY) is a global leader in industrializing 3D printing and assisted Sigma in evolving the early version of PrintRite3D INSPECT version 2.0 towards 5.0. Even more momentous, General Electric's (NYSE: GE) Baker Hughes division has begun the final phase of the PrintRite3D rapid-test and evaluation program, the last step before commercial orders.
- Global 3D printing metal market expected to exceed $3 billion by 2025, progressing at a CAGR of 31.8%.
- Industry hampered by costly and cumbersome quality-control process, inability to scale production.
- Sigma Labs' PrintRite3D appears to be the only solution that enables real-time, in-process detection and intervention of quality-control manufacturing irregularities for critical metal parts.
- Patented and third-party validated by DARPA, PrintRite3D reduces waste, weight, cost and time; allows manufacturers to truly scale-up production.
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The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Here, But Challenges Remain
A computer-aided manufacturing process, 3D metal printing is used to create physical (3D) objects by laser sintering metal, layer by 10-30 micron layer, computer directed by a precise digital design file. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques that create final products by forging, casting or cutting away from a block of material, additive metal-part manufacturing uses a laser to weld 10–30 micron layers of metal together to "sculpt" a final 3- dimensional product.
Now embraced by global industrial companies, 3D printing is about to disrupt the $12 trillion global manufacturing industry. Companies are clamoring for ways to create hypercritical components and prototypes, improve current products, reduce costs and increase speed to market. The global 3D-printing metal market, projected to exceed $3 billion by 2025 with a CAGR of 31.8%, may grow even faster if operational and production challenges are resolved. The newfound ability to deliver nearly instantaneous parts and customized components that can't be created with other manufacturing techniques has spurred large investments and research in additive manufacturing. Demand for 3D metal-printing solutions in precision-dependent industries such as aerospace, defense and biomedical is exceptionally strong. However, the costs and challenges of quality control have stymied the process and inhibited the ability to scale production that these companies so desperately desire.
The Sigma Solution
With its PrintRite3D software, Sigma Labs Inc. (NASDAQ: SGLB) has established a new paradigm in the development and commercialization of real-time, computer-aided inspection solutions. Sigma Labs PrintRite3D product is designed to resolve the bottlenecks and costly quality-control challenges that impede the 3D manufacture of precision metal parts. The company's breakthrough software could revolutionize commercial additive manufacturing by enabling nondestructive quality assurance during production and uniquely allowing errors to be corrected in real time.
Currently, 3D-printed metal parts are inspected after production using CT scans and other techniques. The reason that 3D metal parts require so much cost and care to inspect after manufacturing is that manufacturing 3D metal parts requires that a machines is making the metal of a part at the same time that it is forming the part. The process is synthesizing the metal-manufacturing functions of foundry or casting into the manufacturing process. New processes and methods create exciting new capabilities, and with 3D metal printing exciting new methods also created a big unintended problem: how can the manufacturer know if the newly formed metal is good in every 10-30 micron layer of a 3D part? The manufacturer doesn't really know until after parts are made which of the finished parts meet design specifications. Lost time, lost profits and the difficulties of economically scaling production plague the metal additive manufacturing process. 3D metal-printing manufacturers must find ways to dramatically increase production speed and quality yields and dramatically decrease the excessive cost of post-process quality control to reach economically viable commercial production,
To move 3D metal printing into the mainstream, parts must be inspected and certified during the manufacturing process rather than after. Parts in the production process that are developing signs of quality-control problems must be identified in real-time. The anomaly, along with the solution, must then be communicated to the machine operator to immediately implement repairs. 3D printing will only truly surpass conventional manufacturing techniques when the additive manufacturing industry moves from post-process quality control to in-process quality assurance. Sigma Labs believes it has the solution.
Driven by Science
Sigma Labs was founded in 2010 by a team of Los Alamos National Labs scientists and engineers to develop and commercially license advanced metallurgical products. After assessing 3D metal-printing technology, riddled with capricious and costly quality-control issues, the team realized the enormous potential of 3D metal printing could only scale up if in-process, quality-assurance tools were developed to observe, manage and control manufacturing complexities. Only then could the reliability and repeatability of high-precision quality metal parts be achieved. Sigma Labs' patented and third-party validated software has achieved these objectives and now delivers the critical elements needed to unleash the promise of 3D metal printing and usher in the fourth industrial revolution.
Recognizing the immense value, Sigma Labs has established a strong IP portfolio consisting of 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. Third-party product validation of efficacy was shown to ensure process consistency and product quality in metal additive manufacturing in a research study sponsored by the prestigious Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) conducted in tandem with Honeywell Aerospace.
OEMs and End Users Line Up
Sigma Labs is now in the execution and delivery phase of commercial development. Millions have been poured into R&D, perfecting the latest PrintRite3D 5.0, protecting the IP and engaging 19 beta customers with many of the biggest names in industry. Along with other large OEMs and end users, Sigma Labs has a test and evaluation program in place with aerospace behemoth Airbus, purportedly for use in the helicopter division since components are cheaper to produce and weigh less than counterparts made by conventional methods.
Even more momentous may be the recent revelation on Sigma Labs' earnings call that General Electric's Baker Hughes division has begun the final phase of the PrintRite3D rapid test and evaluation program. This two-machine contract is the last step before full commercial orders, and there are 18 other test programs currently in place. The contract award with Baker Hughes, a global leader in energy and industrial solutions, is Phase 2 of the rapid test and evaluation program, the final validation phase. A successful Phase 2 program could evolve into a material commercial order, integrating PrintRite3D into dedicated production machines.
"The conversion from our initial test and evaluation program to the Phase 2 pilot rollout is a testament to the traction our enabling technology is garnering in the additive manufacturing industry,"
stated Sigma Labs chairman and CEO John Rice . With 19 current beta customers and more likely on the way, the traction Rice refers to could quickly turn to a tsunami of commercial orders.