ASME releases updated standard for 3D printing

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) says it recently released an updated standard based largely on research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which includes language for 3D printing. The standard, titled Y14.46 Product Definition for Additive Manufacturing, identifies important characteristics unique to 3D printing and describes how they should be documented.

Guidance from the new standard should help engineers across a wide range of industries communicate more effectively with manufacturers, product inspectors and others. Its widespread adoption could facilitate the use of 3D printing on a larger scale, unlocking the environmental and economic benefits associated with the technology.

“The industry is currently in the midst of a digital transformation, moving away from physical 2D drawings, and additive manufacturing is one of the catalysts as it requires digital 3D models,” says Fredric Constantino, ASME Project Engineering Advisor. “And if you’re working on one of those models, this standard will guide you to make it understandable for 3D printers and the like.”

In subtractive manufacturing, a common production method, machines cut parts from blocks of raw material according to instructions, which can be described in digital or physical 2D drawings. In contrast, additively manufactured products take shape from scratch, as printers lay down 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 than subtractive methods, 3D printing can also create more complex parts, such as those that are not completely solid but partially hollow, filled with a mesh that can take on many shapes.

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

The lack of consensus on how to convey aspects of a product related to distinct 3D printing capabilities has blurred communications between different organizations and hindered the widespread use of 3D printing.

In 2021, ASME responded to this lack of consensus by forming a committee of several dozen engineers from industry, academia, and the federal government. The group, co-led by Witherell until 2019, sought to create a uniform way to define 3D printed products.

“We weren’t looking for ad hoc solutions. We were looking for solutions that could be standardized and implemented by the community to address these communication challenges,” recalls Witherell. “We already know that we can make good parts using additive manufacturing. Now the goal is to make a lot of parts with additive manufacturing, and that’s a necessary step.

The committee developed the standard over several years, drawing on input from 3D printing experts and NIST research. They also incorporated comments on a draft version of the standard published in 2017

With the new guidelines, the group introduces concepts that not only address the nuances of 3D printing designs, such as their potentially complex internal geometry, but the particularities of the printing process. Factors including print orientation and whether temporary structural supports are printed can influence the strength, durability, and other properties of the final part.

Since printers need digital product information to be presented in a particular way, the new standard also includes a section on how to package data based on 3D models so that it is machine readable.

Designers are expected to reference the new standard as well as several previously established standards, which cover basic design considerations relevant to a wide range of manufacturing methods.

“Some of the other ASME standards last 10 years, 20 years without revision, but additive manufacturing is advancing so rapidly. We aim to keep pace by adding to that standard over time,” Constantino said. “We expect him to evolve quickly.”

For more information, visit the ASME Additive Manufacturing Collection and NIST’s Measurement Science for Additive Manufacturing program

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