As part of quality assurance provider DNV’s recently-launched service for Additive Manufacturing, Protolabs, headquartered in Maple Plain, Minnesota, USA, has achieved a ‘Qualification of Manufacturer’ certification. Protolabs is among the first manufacturers in the EMEA region to achieve the certification, and reportedly the first certified manufacturer using Powder Bed Fusion in its AM process.
“Trust is, rightly, an important necessity for the Oil & Gas industry and also the wider energy sector,” commented Daniel Cohn, General Manager and 3DP Lead for Protolabs EMEA. “But now assurance can be given with the work we’ve conducted under the keen eye of DNV – the independent expert in risk management and assurance for the sector. Audits of our manufacturing facilities and processes prove that we comply with the general demands of the Oil & Gas industry so we can now move forward with even greater support for the sector as a whole.”
The certification applies to Protolabs’ Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) AM technology, referred to by the company as Direct Metal Laser Sintering, specifically for the superalloy Inconel 718 (a high-strength, corrosion-resistant nickel chromium). The combination of the superalloy and the company’s knowledge enables the rapid production of complex geometries for parts exposed to the harsh environments typical of the sector.
Achieving the certification is a process of technical evaluation of a number of probes within the machinery in combination with the material, individually and the system as a whole. The independent certification provides reliable proof that the probes meet the high-quality standard set out by DNV.
Dr Sastry Kandukuri, Senior Principal Materials Specialist in DNV’s Energy Systems Business Unit, added, “I am very happy our Global Additive Manufacturing Technology Centre of Excellence was able to support Protolabs to reach this milestone, as the first certified manufacturer using Powder Bed Fusion technology in their additive process. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Protolabs that gives the assurance and confidence of AM products as their use grows in the Oil & Gas and Energy industries.”
Certification of Protolabs’ PBF-LB process and its Inconel 718 superalloy provides a new level of assurance, but the company also offers a variety of materials and technologies that are relevant to the Oil & Gas, maritime and offshore industries, as well as the broader energy sector.
“We naturally see possibilities in the sector for Inconel 718 but, also, in a less extreme temperature range, for Stainless Steel 316L,” Cohn continued. “The DNV certification applies to our Inconel 718 but we see it as testament to our quality process and expect to see that trust extend to our whole offering.”
Cohn has also predicted the initial responses to the certification to include AM production of spare parts where the original moulding casts no longer exist. “I believe the sector will turn to additive technologies to replace what was formerly cast, but also to look into design possibilities to increase efficiency and create more robust designs for parts such as pumps, valves, components for turbines or sensoring equipment. Moreover, the certification assures customers that they can use the Additive Manufacturing route to unlock decarbonisation benefits.”
“Additive Manufacturing can grow even faster in this way if there is trust in the technology, materials, processes, and in the manufacturing companies themselves.”
Protolabs, as part of its aim of offering additively manufactured parts even faster through a growing portfolio, is building a new 5000 m2 production facility in Putzbrunn, Germany; the €13.5 million investment hopes to increase the company’s AM capability by 50%.
Cohn concluded, “We are the world’s fastest digital manufacturer that can provide assurances needed, but a major goal for us is to produce parts even faster and deliver on an even wider envelope of service for our customers. When a finished design enters our online ordering platform it goes through a short feasibility check by our expert design team, and then on to be printed. The DNV certification will give us the trust needed and the new facility will give us the capacity needed to deliver even more projects in as little as one day.”