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In Process Quality Assurance’s Role in Improving the Additive Manufacturing Lifecycle

by Ron Fisher, Sigma Labs

The additive manufacturing (AM) industry has become a key partner in supporting multiple other advanced industries by utilizing innovative technology to provide materials for high-end, mission-critical applications. From medical implant devices to aerospace applications, from jet engines, rockets and automotive components to oil and gas, AM is generating a great deal of excitement both for its continuous growth and advancement and for its reliability in industries where failure is not an option.

Additive Manufacturing is driving a macro change in manufacturing industries worldwide including rapid advances in raw materials and printer innovations, new printer manufacturers and new technologies, and software specific to the additive manufacturing processes such as simulation software and in-process-quality-assurance software. In fact, AM’s contributions have had such a dramatic impact that it is often referred to as the next industrial revolution.

Despite these positive growth factors, there are a few key limitations that can hamper the industry’s advancement. At the top of the list is the need for greater quality assurance (QA). With their own reputations and timelines at stake, AM customers often demand more from additive manufacturing: faster cycle times, the ability to consolidate many parts of an assembly into fewer parts, and even reduction in costs, waste, and lead times for critical components.

Customers also demand perfection in the physical materials produced. As such, manufacturers need to make sure their parts don’t have structural issues. This is a difficult brief to fulfill when there are so many variables in the process: varying quality standards, inconsistencies in raw materials, and a plethora of new technologies coming to the market.

Balancing continuous innovation with expectations of consistent, high-quality output is a tall order for any manufacturer. The key to success lies in the reliance on a machine agnostic, standards-based, in-process quality assurance strategy. In this white paper, you will learn how systematic QA — backed by innovative technology — can support AM without stifling technological advancement.

Achieving Solid ROI Throughout the Additive Manufacturing Lifecycle

The average AM lifecycle progresses through multiple stages, beginning with an R&D prototyping before moving into part qualification with the goal of achieving a large-scale production operation. In-process quality assurance has been demonstrated by numerous third parties to provide a superior ROI for AM operations.

In the chart below, the critical zone for in-process quality assurance comes into production scale as you advance into production. This is because while it is generally acknowledged that post-process quality control is a requirement for ensuring that parts are manufactured to meet high quality specifications, post-process quality control is actually very time consuming, expensive and, in many cases, destructive to parts.

That is why a requirement for third-party and machine-agnostic, standards-based in-process quality assurance is critical for individual manufacturers and for the industry as a whole. As W. Edwards Deming put it, “Inspection does not improve the quality, nor guarantee quality. Inspection is too late. The quality, good or bad, is already in the product.” Harold F. Dodge stated this even more succinctly, “You cannot inspect quality into a product.”

Echoing Deming, inspection is indeed often too late. The quality of the part is either good or bad at that point in time. By adopting an in-process quality approach, manufacturers have the flexibility to act during the process such as:

  • Stopping the process if you identify problems.
  • Adjusting the process in real time — such as turning off one part or multiple parts on a build plate if an individual part is experiencing unacceptable conditions.
  • Segregating parts or batching suspect parts and good parts to route them through different quality control requirements at the end of the process.

The above list is a small sampling of the control afforded to manufacturers by leveraging an in-process quality approach during the additive lifecycle.

Other ROI benefits include:

  • Faster product development cycle time due to reduced trial and error.
  • Faster part qualification saving significant amounts of time and money.
  • Minimizes waste through non-destructive inspection and the ability to stop bad builds in process.
  • Maximizes machine time because you can stop processes when defects are detected, and you have fewer trial and error builds.
  • Reduces post-production processing costs due to dramatically reduced need for CT scans of final parts and perform non-destructive testing.

Quality is a key driver, and not just a by-product, of the growth of the additive manufacturing industry. For more about in-process-quality-assurance, visit our YouTube channel or sigmalabsinc.com.

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