Phase3D Ushers in New Era of In-Situ Inspection for Metal Additive Manufacturing

Phase3D is developing technology that offers highly effective metal additive manufacturing quality control.

Part of the 3D printing explosion, metal additive manufacturing (AM) is transforming the manufacturing industry.

Metal additive manufacturing uses data computer-aided-design software or 3D object scanners to direct hardware to deposit fine metal powders, layer upon layer, to create 3D objects. Along with benefits like savings in costs, energy, and time, metal AM can produce highly complex geometries that are impossible to achieve in traditional manufacturing.

As its technology matures, metal AM is transitioning from prototyping to end-use production in the biomedical, aerospace, automotive, and other industries. Yet challenges to wider-scale adoption remain.

Lack of quality control is a major obstacle. Industrywide, there is a need for an effective, affordable process to guarantee consistent quality, strength, and reliability of parts produced via metal AM. As parts become more complex, the need to guarantee structural integrity becomes more critical.

To that end, Niall O’Dowd, a member of Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) Cohort 5, developed technology that provides a highly effective quality control solution, ushering in a new phase of in-situ inspection for metal AM.

Through his startup, Phase3D (formerly Additive Monitoring Systems), O’Dowd has developed Project Fringe, a low-cost, patent-pending optical in-situ monitoring system that can be retrofit to any industrial 3D printer to provide real-time, valid part quality data.

“Metal AM makes parts that can be more complex, lighter, and cheaper than traditional manufacturing. However, due to the simultaneous creation of part geometry and material, builders often don’t have high confidence in component performance,” O’Dowd said.

“Our real-time inspection technology gives them insight into how parts will perform so they will have higher confidence in final part quality. This is critical when manufacturing products like nuclear reactor parts or aerospace components.”

O’Dowd launched the company while finishing his Ph.D. in structural health monitoring at the University of California, San Diego. The genesis of the idea came while he was pursuing his thesis on optical monitoring techniques for metal AM in 2020 funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he spent nearly a year as a graduate student.

“I got hooked on the idea of starting a business based on the work I did during my thesis,” said O’Dowd. “I want to use my innovation to solve real-world problems relevant to industry.”


The AM process can produce material defects including residual stresses, micro-cracks, and pores that can cause structural failure in 3D-printed metal parts

Standard quality control methods, including ultrasound, eddy current,

and X-ray computed tomography, are used to assess the part after it’s printed, which can result in wasted time, materials, and cost if defects are found.

Phase3D uses a quantitative approach to real-time monitoring, which takes the guesswork out of the process by providing real units of data that are used for decision making.

“Our in-situ technology directly measures layers of the AM process in real time, quantified in real units, throughout the printing process. These precise measurements can help AM users fix defects,” O’Dowd said.

O’Dowd’s modular technology uses a structured light technique that provides dense 3D measurements of dynamically changing surfaces. A sensor scans the material’s surface; collects high-quality, real-time measurements of the structure’s status; detects damage at its outset; and provides real-time, smart data for precise design revisions and planning.

Because flawed products must be discarded or recycled, the technology reduces lost schedule time and wasted energy by allowing parts to be scrapped sooner in the manufacturing process.


O’Dowd is advancing his technology during his CRI two-year fellowship, which embeds innovators at Argonne to help them develop and de-risk their early-stage technologies.

At Argonne, Niall O’Dowd (left), Founder and CEO of Phase3D is using 3D metal printers to validate and optimize his sensing technology.

He is working with Xuan Zhang, Principal Materials Scientist in Argonne’s Metal Additive Manufacturing Lab in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Division. Together, they use 3D metal printers to validate and optimize his sensing technology.

“I am establishing projects to integrate my sensor into metal AM printers of industry customers who are interested in increasing their part output,” O’Dowd said.

O’Dowd uses X-rays at the Advanced Photon Source’s (APS) synchrotron to image interior solidification mechanics during the printing process to validate defect prediction models. “The APS at Argonne provides an unprecedented means of validation of my technology’s defect monitoring capabilities,” O’Dowd said. “No other lab across the globe offers this capability.”



Phase3D, with its growing, multidisciplinary team of engineers and developers, has formed partnerships with academic institutions and research laboratories.

Since joining CRI, Phase3D received a $1.2 million contract with the Technology Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the innovation arm of the U.S. Air Force to demonstrate in-situ monitoring capabilities.

Phase3D recently partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to provide in-situ monitoring to support flight-ready production of high-performance copper components for NASA’s liquid propulsion technologies.

“My CRI project directly contributes to the mission of Argonne and DOE by pushing the envelope of additive manufacturing technology through in-process part inspection and quality certification,” O’Dowd said.

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