Layer Metrics: A Real-Time Revolution in 3D Printing
“Ours is a first-of-its-kind integrated metrology system for simultaneous, synchronized monitoring of geometric and thermal profiles. That enables adaptive process control and digitally recorded, born-certified parts — perfectly formed parts, first time, every time.”
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has the potential to be a highly disruptive force throughout the global manufacturing industry, but there are challenges that must be overcome before this process can reach widespread adoption. Components like medical implants or aircraft engine parts leave no room for error, and scrapped outputs from inconsistent 3D printing cost billions of dollars and countless hours of lost time each year.
Clare Murphy, CEO of Layer Metrics, describes how her company has developed a system that protects build integrity as it happens to enable more consistent, reliable 3D printing.
What is the problem that Layer Metrics is working to solve?
[CM] Additive manufacturing is a phenomenal game changer for manufacturing. Tier-one companies use it to produce mission-critical components, parts that must pass stringent QC&A before release. However, additive manufacturing is a difficult, dynamic process — micro-powders being melted with high-power lasers presents a very challenging process that is difficult to repeat with consistent results. Currently, those tier-one companies don’t know if the printed part is good or bad until it is CT scanned. They need to manufacture multiple parts to get one good one. All of that restricts the use of additive manufacturing to very high-end, high-value components where manufacturers can afford to scrap half of them. This is restrictive to the point that additive manufacturing is only 0.1% of global manufacturing, despite its potential.
The industry is demanding closed-loop adaptive control to overcome these expensive inconsistencies. The printer itself must become autonomous and take corrective action, adjusting its parameters during the build to ensure high-quality parts. To achieve that, the build parameters need to be monitored in real time. Solutions that are available today use very expensive, data heavy, scientific cameras for each parameter, ending up with massive data packages — real-time monitoring is just not feasible with these solutions. It’s drowning in too much data, it’s too little too late, and it’s not synchronized.
By increasing confidence in the consistency and quality control of additive manufacturing, we can move the needle on the market. That’s what we aim to do at Layer Metrics.
How does your technology address the challenges of additive manufacturing?
[CM] Layer Metrics has developed the first integrated metrology system that we call the Spectroferometer™. With machine learning and AI, our system simultaneously measures the geometric and thermal profiles of the metal printing process in real-time to enable the prevention and correction of metal printing errors, so every part can be born-certified.
The system itself is a combination of different optical measurement techniques sharing a common camera, and we’re using fiber optic probes to pick up information from the build chamber. For me it’s like an octopus with all these tentacles that come back to one brain: the camera that captures the time-stamped synchronized data of all the build parameters.
Where does Layer Metrics stand now, and what has been helpful in advancing your business?
[CM] We have first sales and paid pilots. We’re working with industry experts and influencers such as Oak Ridge National Lab, Penn State, and the Rochester Institute of Technology’s AMPrint Center. We are also gaining significant traction in the commercial market and we are in discussion with multiple AM market leaders.
We have greatly benefited from industry networks such as America Makes and we have benefited significantly from being part of the Luminate Accelerator. This program provided tradeshow events for us to meet with and understand engineering and manufacturing support that is available in the Rochester, NY region. Through our engagement with local companies, we have found strong synergies between our technologies and their expertise that can help to accelerate our development. The program also gives us access to a team of experienced, successful mentors in optical design and engineering, entrepreneurship, business development, sales, and marketing. In addition to this, we have connected directly with Empire State Development (ESD) representatives who have been very supportive in understanding our activities and making targeted introductions across the state.
How did Layer Metrics get started?
[CM] The AM industry approached us in search of a solution to a pressing problem: the need for real-time, integrated monitoring to enable both fully verified parts and closed-loop, adaptive process control. To accelerate growth, the AM industry needs to achieve in-line, real-time QC&A for all AM parts.
We are ideally positioned to take on this challenge. We’re leveraging our background of more than 20 years of expertise in developing optical monitoring instruments for lasers, display screens, and optical fiber sensors to create a new technology that combines multiple parallel optical monitoring techniques in a single instrument.
In January 2020, we filed for patent protection on our integrated solution. Our new parallel optical processor images critical build parameter information onto a single, common camera to yield in-time, actionable data about the build. It enables real-time part verification, layer-by-layer, and intervention when needed. Users can see what went wrong, where, and why so they can take action to correct defects and prevent print failures.
Any advice for other startups and entrepreneurs?
[CM] Multiply everything by two or three. It takes twice as long and it’s twice as expensive to get what you want done! Also, trust your team. It’s your advisors, mentors, network, and community that will help you get to where you need to be. Even though we were approached by the industry to solve a pressing problem, it’s still important to identify your market and lean on the support of your network.