This month we’re introducing our new “Six Questions” feature in which we’ll discuss the latest in AM as well as UL AM innovations with UL Engineering subject matter experts. Why six questions? We landed on six questions because it enabled our experts to provide the right amount of insight and depth on a subject.
For our first topic, we sat down with Balakrishnan V Nair, UL Additive Manufacturing Development Engineer. Balu, as he’s known to his colleagues, played a key role in the development of UL 3400, the AM industry’s first guideline focused on AM Facility Safety. Let’s take a deeper dive on UL 3400 with six questions for Balu:
#1 What were the drivers behind developing UL 3400?
Additive Manufacturing (AM), in general, experienced substantial growth in recent years, resulting in the introduction of more and more AM-specific facilities worldwide. The growth was more profound in the metal AM arena, thanks to the design freedom and ease of fabrication that the technology presents. Some of the key challenges that accompanied this growth were attributed to the safety aspects of these facilities. Employers, employees, as well as the insurance companies who have to underwrite AM Facilities, were not fully aware of the inherent material and technology risks.
Additionally, not a single standard or statutory guideline was available that specifically focused on AM. Other standards and guidelines that dealt with occupational and environmental safety were developed for conventional manufacturing processes. Out of this landscape, we (UL) decided to address this industry need by developing a set of guidelines exclusively for AM. Our initial effort resulted in UL3400, an industry first.
#2 What was the team’s approach in developing UL 3400?
The team had two critical challenges ahead of us when it came to the development effort. First and foremost was the approach to be adopted - should the Outline be centered on safety management system or should it focus on the day-to-day function of the facility. After detailed deliberations, we adopted a hazard-based approach which was unique.
The second challenge was how to classify and group together all the AM technologies available in the marketplace. Since technology updates were being introduced almost on a daily basis and innovations emerging rapidly, it was difficult to come to a decision. Classifications of Additive Manufacturing Systems based on materials (metals and non-metals), processes (joining, binding, melting, and solidification) and equipment were considered. Ultimately, we decided to base the approach on the physical state of the primary feedstock material.
#3 Since UL’s launch of the AM Facility Safety Management Program in 2016 and the recent publishing of UL 3400 in 2017, what are some of the common challenges your clients are experiencing in establishing an AM Facility?
Clients frequently experience challenges involving facility classification and local codes. Specifically:
- Occupancy Classification: Designating the facility as Hazardous or Ordinary directly impacts cost of facility construction and allowable quantity of materials;
- Automatic water sprinklers and fire suppression systems that are forbidden for an AM facility that uses reactive powders , may be in conflict with local building and fire codes;
- A general lack of knowledge among facility staff and local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) of how local, state and federal regulations can be applied to AM. This can cause confusion, frustration and delay in the approval processes.
#4 What are the top 3 benefits for pursuing a UL Certification against UL 3400?
UL3400 is not just about certification. When a customer decides to pursue certification, what they stand to gain is an end-to-end service. UL engages with the customer even before they have purchased AM equipment, materials or begun the facility construction. Our service begins with advisory on facility design, construction and operation, and continues through the continued maintenance of the facility. All of which are in compliance with all applicable standards, best practices and regulatory requirements.
Since the facility workforce is receiving training and the AM equipment (primary + ancillary) is evaluated to regulatory requirements (in addition to the services mentioned above), the insurance companies will be able to underwrite the facility at a much reduced premium and perhaps provide enhanced coverage for the employees. This in turn can result in improved employee retention.
Similar to many UL customers, the recipient of UL3400 can leverage the certification from a reputable global safety organization in numerous ways - increased global market access, global recognition, enhanced brand value/image and, above all, the confidence UL3400 certification provides.
#5 Looking ahead, what future trends do you see in AM facilities? Of those, what will have the greatest impact on the industry?
We’re already seeing an increased focus on the environmental impacts of AM and the related implications, such as, development of 100% recyclable materials, working towards zero waste facilities, and the introduction of equipment and power sources that are environment friendly.
Also, there’s exploration in the area of Smart Facilities where AM, AI and Robotic Workforce are effectively integrated. It’s going to be fascinating!
#6 What is next for UL 3400?
We’re just getting started. Next up are guidelines that address solid feedstock materials (wires, laminates, pellets) and liquid feedstock materials (photo polymers, resins). We may develop these in the form of an independent Outline of Investigation or enhancements to UL3400 over the next 6 to 12 months.
About Balu V Nair
Balu joined UL in 2015 as an AM Development Engineer with more than three decades of hands-on manufacturing industry experience including Design & Prototype development of CNC Machine tools and Control Valves manufacturing. He is trained in various Additive Manufacturing technologies with a core focus in the safety management of AM processes.
Balu holds a Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Science in Computer Integrated Manufacturing. He is a member of the ASTM F42 subcommittee on EHS and a member of the work group on Combustible Dusts of Singapore Chemical Industries Council.
Have a topic idea for our next Six Questions? Let us know at [email protected].