A growing number of leading manufacturers are using the additive process to produce their products. Additive manufacturing is often applied within military, aerospace, medical, and automotive environments, where it can save time and increase performance. Additive manufacturing can be used to make nearly anything from a small part to larger complex items traditionally made as assemblies. Just as with traditional manufacturing methods, achieving a consistent level of quality in additive manufacturing is critical to success.
Additive manufacturing has many advantages such as the ability to develop innovative designs, build a rapid prototype, and create components in a wide range of geometric sizes. Well managed additive manufacturing saves labor and processing time, while reducing waste. In some cases, the additive process requires even more precision. Investing in an effective quality management solution should be one the first steps in managing the process.
Inconsistent quality can impact product rollout and cause significant safety issues. This is especially important for highly regulated industries. Manufacturers in these sectors need an ability to manage the quality inspection process to ensure compliance. An effective quality management solution helps create a controlled environment where performance is repeatable and reliable.
In situ inspections use infrared sensors and visual cameras to monitor the build and make sure the additively manufactured parts meet quality specifications. Quality management software can be used to identify problems within these inspections when they occur, avoiding costly delays or rework. An effective quality management solution will provide complete traceability and genealogy of every part in the product lifecycle. Every action taken on a part is recorded. Any nonconformances found are dispositioned within the system. Deviations can be acted on in real-time so consistency can be maintained. The software provides users tight control over product specs and work orders.
Since additive manufacturing is relatively new, regulatory standards are still evolving. However, there are some industry standards in place. For example, parts produced using additive techniques for the aerospace industry must be qualified with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on an individual basis. A quality management solution can ensure parts meet this standard and provide objective evidence that supports industry compliance. With an effective system in place, adhering to new standards can be a seamless process.
The powders used in additive manufacturing need to be inspected and remain free from contamination. Once validated during receiving inspection, they need to be stored in a controlled manner. A quality solution with material control capabilities can facilitate the entire inventory control to support the manufacturing process from procurement through allocation, cure, completion, and inspection. The shelf life of these expensive materials can be extended if efficient controls are in place.
Additive manufacturing requires extensive documentation including design documents, work instructions, and inspection records. A comprehensive electronic document history is maintained within the quality management solution that enables a paperless shop floor. The software supports electronic document approvals, recognizes when a change occurs, and documents who it was that made the change. All documents related to additively manufactured parts, including photos, can be archived, and immediately referenced for audit purposes.
Asset management is critical to the additive manufacturing process. The equipment used to generate the parts needs to be calibrated and validated based on the software model for the part. Materials used to ensure pressure, temperature, feed timing and other variables must be set correctly prior to making any part. If the equipment used to generate the part is out of calibration or is used incorrectly, results will be inconsistent. Using statistical process control, the quality management solution will monitor variance in measurements on the parts produced and adjustments can be made.
The advent of additive manufacturing brings exciting opportunity to today’s manufacturers. It allows for flexibility in design with increased customization and eliminates the need for assembly. However, without strict quality oversight, product quality will suffer.
Manufacturers who implement a best-in-class quality management solution can ensure the quality of their additively manufactured products, while containing costs and increasing their time-to-market.
Contact TIP Technologies today at (262) 544-1211 or visit our website to learn more about how we support additive manufacturers.