A proof of concept demonstration by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland shows that a range of sensors or smart identifications can be added to 3D-printed metal parts during manufacture to track the performance and condition of machines or devices, or to verify the authenticity of the parts. The project combined 3D printing of a smart shaft by combining sensor technology, wireless data transfer and condition monitoring in the same package.
An accelerometer and essential wiring were embedded into a 3D-printed metal shaft for a friction bearing. Electronics for wireless communication were also installed on the bearing. The reliability of the shaft's measurement technology and data transfer were then demonstrated on a bearing test bench.
The researchers say the rapid collection and use of accurate data markedly increase when data is directly transferred from the component to the cloud wirelessly. The approach provides the designer with a much higher degree of freedom compared to traditional manufacturing methods. A device with a wear-measuring sensor provides up-to-date information allowing the necessary maintenance to begin automatically, without breaks in production.
Possible applications range from the manufacture of industrial machines to the energy, mining and transport industries. Embedded sensors are ideal for demanding conditions, because the sensors and wiring are protected inside the component, and normal functioning is unimpeded by extraneous wiring on the surfaces of structures.