3D Printing

Interview with Mark Cola, CEO of 3D Printing R&D Company Sigma Labs

This article may contain forward-looking statements as defined by federal and state securities laws. Forward-looking statements include statements concerning plans, objectives, goals, strategies, expectations, intentions, projections, developments, future events, performance or products, underlying assumptions and other statements which are other than statements of historical facts.  Forward-looking statements are only predictions that relate to future events, or our future performance, and are subject to known and unknown risks, uncertainties, assumptions, and other factors, many of which are beyond our control. As a result, we cannot guarantee future results or performance as that performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

Gary Anderson: Thank you for spending time with readers of 3DPrintingIndustry.com to discuss Sigma Labs Inc. (SGLB).  Sigma Labs was founded three years ago by high-level scientists and engineers out of Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Can you expand a little on Los Alamos and their history in additive manufacturing/3D printing?

Mark Cola: Los Alamos National Laboratory was one of the original architects of forming articles from materials in particulate form in which the materials are melted by a laser beam and deposited at points along a tool path to form an article of the desired shape and dimensions. This work stems back to the early 1990’s when collaborators from the Metallurgy Group (MST-6) within the Materials Science & Technology (MST) Division began demonstrating the technology necessary to perform 3D printing of metal objects.  My colleague and co-founder of Sigma Labs, Dr. Vivek Davé and I worked in the Metallurgy Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory beginning in the late 1990’s and directly with the co-inventors of the 3D metal printing technology that became the precursor of today’s 3D metal printing. 

Gary Anderson: Sigma Labs recently announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Los Alamos National Laboratory in the technology space of 3D printing of metals. Can you address some specific areas you are looking at for potential development with Los Alamos?

Mark Cola: Sigma Labs is seeking patentable technology that may be relatable to 3D printing of metal objects.  This could be new sensor technology that allows Sigma Labs to gain a better understanding of the underlying physics of the process as well as new software and algorithmic techniques to fuse, mine and analyse complex, ill-defined data sets, an area for which Los Alamos is a recognised leader.

Gary Anderson: In addition to the 3D printing MOU with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sigma Labs announced a contract win last week related to the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES) program.  Please explain what the ARIES program is, and what role Sigma Labs has in it with this contract.

Mark Cola: ARIES is the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System and is the only program in the nation that disassembles and destroys surplus plutonium pits. The pits are transformed into plutonium oxide powder suitable for being made into fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. The ARIES Program is based on an agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation to eliminate 34 metric tons of weapons grade materials and turn them into nuclear fuel thereby reducing the threat of global weapons proliferation.  Sigma Labs will be providing advanced manufacturing expertise in the area of systems integration technology and support as Los Alamos transitions to full implementation of ARIES.

Gary Anderson:  In September, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded a $5 million research grant for additive manufacturing to a team of companies and research facilities with the project lead being America Makes (formerly NAMII).  Sigma Labs was also announced as a team member.

Can you tell us about the role America Makes has with regards to additive manufacturing in the United States, some of the team members besides Sigma Labs on the project and what this project will encompass?

Mark Cola: America Makes is The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute centered in Youngstown, OH and is a member-based organization that serves as a nationally recognised additive manufacturing center of innovation excellence.  As a public-private partnership with member organisations from industry, academia, government and workforce development resources, the organisation is working to transition additive manufacturing technology to the mainstream U.S. manufacturing sector and yield significant advancements throughout industry. America Makes is the pilot institute for up to 15 National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) institutes across the country.

The grant is one of two awarded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The award totalling $2.4M, was awarded to America Makes member, Northern Illinois University, and its principal collaborators. The competitively awarded grants, which are two years in duration, were made through NIST’s Measurement Science for Advanced Manufacturing (MSAM) Cooperative Agreement Program.

There are currently a total of 26 collaborators including Sigma Labs’ wholly-owned subsidiary B6 Sigma, Inc. and the Edison Welding Institute (EWI) which will lead collaborative efforts to develop in-process sensing and monitoring capabilities for additive manufacturing of metal parts.  EWI and its America Makes partners will focus on an additive manufacturing technology known as laser-powder bed fusion, with the goal of optimizing the structure and properties of metal powders as they are fused into parts.

Gary Anderson:  Christine Furstoss, Technical Director for Manufacturing and Materials Technologies at GE recently stated: “As an industry, we have to find ways to go faster. For all of the time you can save in the design phase, the actual printing or production of parts using additive technologies is still too slow. To help address this challenge we have a joint technology development agreement with Sigma Labs Inc., to develop in-process inspection technologies of additive components with the goal of reducing production time up to 25 percent.”

Can you elaborate on the in-process inspection technology Sigma Labs is developing?

Mark Cola: Sigma Labs through its wholly-owned subsidiary B6 Sigma, Inc. has developed in-process inspection technology known as PrintRite3D® that allows manufacturers of safety-critical components to inspect product as it’s being made instead of after the fact. By inspecting product in-process as opposed to post-process, Sigma Labs can help its customers dramatically reduce their overall inspection costs by only inspecting product identified as suspect during the manufacturing process, aka inspection-for-cause.  Therefore, our customers can begin to open up their production flow and allow only good product to continue on its way through the manufacturing process by using our PrintRite3D® technology as a discriminator to sort acceptable from suspect product. PrintRite3D® comprises COTS sensors and high-speed data acquisition hardware along with our proprietary, highly-sophisticated software algorithms to mine process data for relevant process-related features. PrintRite3D® does not directly inspect or detect defects, but rather it quantifies the conditions under which they may occur.

Gary Anderson:  PrintRite3D is a key product for Sigma Labs.  Can you provide an overview of the technology, the solutions it can provide in 3D printing and potential methods you might utilise in a business model for commercialisation and new revenue generation for Sigma Labs?

Mark Cola: I believe the technology itself, i.e. PrintRite3D®, and the solutions it can provide have already been addressed in my previous answers. Regarding revenue generation from PrintRite3D®, we envision a business model that generates recurring revenue from a variety of sources. First, we have sales of hardware and sensors. Second, we have software licenses for the analysis software that allows end users to determine quality in-process and on-machine. Finally, there is the possibility of providing both as a service and simply charging a click charge for each time the hardware / software combination is used. Therefore there are several models depending on the specific needs of individual clients.

Gary Anderson:  Finally, the In-Process Quality Assurance technology Sigma Labs has developed can be utilised in a new process for the repair of gas turbines used in power generation.  his led to a contract win for Sigma Labs with a Fortune 100 power generation company, announced earlier this year.

A recent report estimates that the global market for Gas Turbine Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) in the power industry is expected to reach $14.5 billion in the next five years. Do you believe the initial work Sigma Labs is doing in the repair of gas turbines has the potential to lead to further contracts in the future?

Mark Cola: The work we are doing with our Fortune 100 power generation customer is an early-stage project to demonstrate the proof-of-concept for a new weld repair technology our client has developed. Key to its success is the ability of our IPQA technology to identify key process variables necessary to ensure a quality weld repair.  Should our work prove to be effective in identifying key process variables, next steps might entail developing a closed-loop control scheme capable of being integrated into a systems-level solution for deployment globally to the MRO community.

Disclosure: Gary Anderson is long shares of Sigma Labs Inc. But he has not been paid by Sigma Labs or any third party for this article.