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If you missed this webinar, you can watch it here: From Powder to Product: Quality in Additive Manufacturing

Here are the highlights from this webinar:

Over the last two decades, 3D printing technologies have become infamous for lack of quality control. Great for prototyping and one-off production, additive manufacturing struggles to achieve dimensional control and process capability that traditional manufacturing techniques have achieved.

In metal additive manufacturing, predictable manufacturing in serial production can vary dramatically due to:

  • Machine or system capability
  • Positioning or orientation on the platform
  • Build-to-build machine changes
  • Machine-to-machine build differences
  • Operator dependencies
  • Sintering shrink and material property variation over time
  • Powder variability (particle size, shape, dryness, surface texture, cohesion/adhesion, hygroscopicity)
  • Environmental conditions

Controlling Critical Parameters

To control variation in the process, it is important to monitor and control critical parameters. Understanding the capability of your process allows you to control quality and predict future results.

The trick is to identify the critical variables that affect other variables. If you understand and control critical variables, you can then control all variables. Tracking critical parameter data in real-time allows AM manufacturers to make immediate corrections to any issues. Unfortunately, this is very difficult to do with most metal AM processes, and is one of 3DEO’s key differentiators.

At 3DEO, quality control is implemented throughout the entire operation–from raw materials coming into the factory all the way through to the finished parts. Process controls have been developed directly into 3DEO’s process to address challenges of maintaining quality control in production. Learn more about quality at 3DEO here.

3DEO built quality controls into our process as we developed the factory. We did the following to establish a strong baseline:

  • Built a strong base and created a continuous improvement culture
  • Designed our own equipment and defined processes
  • Identified our critical variables and are worked to reduce variability
  • Incorporated all processes in-house
  • Established a great knowledge base with the right team and continuous training

3DEO looks to reduce controllable variation whenever possible, such as isolating the effects of changes in environment and using standard operating procedures. This also includes designing technology that can achieve repeatability, implementing closed feedback loops to continuously monitor critical production parameters, and defining control methodologies during the design process. This technical approach allows 3DEO to monitor and fix issues in real-time and have predictable and repeatable outcomes.

How to Develop a Quality Plan

There are four steps to building a quality plan.

  • Create the right culture and expectations

The first step to developing a quality plan is establishing the right culture and expectations within your organization. Adapt the Lean Startup approach — learn from every experience and look for opportunities to improve. Continuously train your staff and clearly communicate quality goals. Encourage employees to provide feedback and empower them within set boundaries.

  • Minimize Environmental and Operator Variation

To achieve a repeatable process and high-volumes, it is key to minimize environmental and operator variation. Print parts in controlled environments to ensure repeatable outcomes and predictable performance. Your operations team should be disciplined and comply with SOPs. Keep as many production operations in-house to track data and maintain all equipment and calibration schedules.

  • Implement Effective Process Controls

You must implement effective process controls within your operations. Identify and track critical variables by defining early warning systems, using closed feedback loops, and automating data collection when possible. Clearly communicate goals with the team and have short daily status meetings to review metrics and roadblocks. Establish a culture of continuous improvement amongst your organization to build a successful quality plan.

  • Monitor and Improve the Quality Plan

An effective quality plan is continuously improving. Monitor and improve your quality plan as your operation expands. Keep track of every single aspect of your process and continue to find areas to improve. At 3DEO, multiple variables are monitored for each step of the process, such as incoming powder, printing operation, and final inspection.

With these four steps, you are well on your way to building a quality system. However, volume production is not for everyone. Quality systems in production are hard to maintain and difficult to scale. Instead of building your own system, work with 3DEO.

To learn more about building a quality system in production, watch the webinar now.