These 3D models show many of the unique degrees of freedom provided by additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, such as the production of parts with complex geometry and made from multiple materials. A new ASME standard, Y14.46, provides guidance on how to transfer specific 3D printing considerations to project documents.


Reprinted by ASME Y14.46-2022, courtesy of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. All rights reserved.

Since the 1940s, engineers have used a common design language – a set of definitions, symbols and practices – to produce engineering drawings that can serve as clear production drawings or checklists.

Although this system still works well for many traditional manufacturing methods, it has not equipped engineers to produce clear and consistent design documents for additive manufacturing, commonly called 3D printing. And the lack of standard methods of communication leaves room for information about 3D printing designs to be lost in translation.

This week, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) released an updated standard – largely based on research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – that includes a language specifically for 3D printing. The ASME standard entitled Y14.46 Product definition of additive manufacturingidentifies important features unique to 3D printing and outlines how they should be documented.

The guide can help engineers from a wide range of industries communicate more effectively with manufacturers, product inspectors and more. Its widespread adoption could remove a permanent barrier to the application of 3D printing on a larger scale, unlocking the environmental and economic benefits associated with the technology.

“The industry is in a digital transformation right now, moving away from physical 2D drawings, and additive manufacturing is one of the catalysts as it requires digital 3D models,” said Fredrik Constantino, ASME’s project engineering consultant. “And if you’re working on one of these models, this standard will guide you to make it understandable to both 3D printers and others.”

With subtractive production, a common production method, the machines cut parts from raw material blocks according to instructions, which can be outlined in a digital or physical 2D drawing. In contrast, additive products are formed from the beginning, as printers make one layer at a time, merging them into a predetermined shape that can only be dictated by a 3D model.

In addition to producing less waste from extraction methods, 3D printing also allows designs of higher complexity, such as those that are not completely rigid but partially hollow, filled with a mesh that may appear in many forms.

“Additive manufacturing has opened the door to many unique design opportunities for engineers, but this freedom also poses challenges in communicating complex designs,” said NIST mechanical engineer Paul Weadrell.

The lack of consensus on how to convey product aspects related to the individual capabilities of 3D printing has confused communication between different organizations and created a barrier to wider use of technology.

ASME responded to this hurdle in 2014 by forming a committee of several dozen engineers from industry, academia and the federal government. The group, led jointly by Witherell until 2019, seeks to create a unified approach to defining 3D printed products.

“We did not seek ad hoc solutions. “We were looking for solutions that could be standardized and implemented by the community to address these challenges through communication,” Weadrell said. “We already know that we can make good parts with additive production. Now the goal is to make a lot of parts with additive production and this is a necessary step. “

The committee developed the standard over several years, drawing on information from NIST’s 3D printing and research experts. They also included feedback on a draft version of the standard released in 2017.

With the new guidelines, the group introduces concepts for dealing not only with the nuances of the 3D printing designs themselves, such as their potentially complex internal geometry, but also with the peculiarities of the printing process. Factors, including the orientation of the impression and whether temporary structural supports are printed, can affect the strength, durability and other properties of the final product.

Because printers need digital product information to be presented in a certain way, the guide also includes a section on how to package 3D-based data models so that they are machine-readable.

Designers should refer to the new standard together with several pre-established standards, which cover basic design considerations that are relevant to a wide range of production methods.

3D printing has several clear advantages over better established production methods, but is not applied to almost the same extent. One reason for this is the lack of a basic way to convey design ideas – a gap that is now filled due to the efforts of ASME and NIST.

If adopted by major players in manufacturing, the standard can improve 3D printing communication, potentially creating a more sustainable and efficient manufacturing industry in the future. However, expanding the standard along the way will be key.

“Some of the other ASME standards last 10 years, 20 years without revision, but additive manufacturing is advancing so fast. “We strive to keep up the pace by adding to this standard over time,” Constantino said. “We expect it to develop quickly.”

For more information visit ASME additive production collection and NIST’s additive manufacturing measurement program.

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