Powder bed fusion (PBF) is a widely used additive manufacturing (AM) technology to produce metallic parts. Understanding the relationships between process parameter settings and the quality of finished parts remains a critical research question. Developing this understating involves an intermediate step: Process parameters, such as laser power and scan speed, influence the ongoing process characteristics, which then affect the final quality of the finished parts. Conventional approaches to addressing those challenges such as powder-based simulations (e.g., discrete element method (DEM)) and voxel-based simulations (e.g., finite element method (FEM)) can provide valuable insight into process physics. Those types of simulations, however, are not well-suited to handle realistic manufacturing plans due to their high computational complexity.
Thermal simulations of the PBF process have the potential to implement that intermediate step. Developing accurate thermal simulations, however, is difficult due to the physical and geometric complexities of the manufacturing process. We propose a new, meso-scale, thermal-simulation, which is built on the path-level interactions described by a typical process plan. Since our model is rooted in manufactured geometry, it has the ability to produce scalable, thermal simulations for evaluating realistic process plans. The proof-of-concept simulation result is validated against experimental results in the literature and experimental results from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
In our model, the laser-scan path is discretized into elements, and each element represents the newly melted material. An element-growth mechanism is introduced to simulate the evolution of the melt pool and its thermal characteristics during the manufacturing process. The proposed simulation reduces computational demands by attempting to capture the most important thermal effects developed during the manufacturing process. Those effects include laser-energy absorption, thermal interaction between adjacent elements and elements within the underneath substrate, thermal convection and radiation, and powder melting.