Learn how to leverage manufacturing software for scalable business growth with this free eBook!

You’ll learn:

  • The things that keep additive manufacturers from being able to grow and how to avoid them
  • The secrets to scalable growth in the industry and bulletproof repeatability
  • How to increase efficiency in Additive Manufacturing
  • Helpful tips on mastering risk management in Additive Manufacturing
  • Why the right MES and QMS can lead you to AM success
  • How the AM’s at the top of their game overcome some of the greatest AM challenges and more!


The Ultimate Guide to Something Important

Traditional ERP/MRP systems are disjointed at best when used in Additive Manufacturing production, providing little to no real-time data to track part-build progression. Bluestreak | Bright AM’s manufacturing execution systems and quality management system (MES and QMS) combo is specifically designed for improving and scaling service-based Additive Manufacturing through real-time shop floor tracking. The right system is crucial to quality products, effective production, minimal waste, and the ultimate goal of a scalable, profitable process.

As we cover the key factors to leveraging Additive Manufacturing software for business growth, we must remember that quality can go awry at any point, and the ability to identify it early is vital to saving time and money while scaling. 

A great base structure and clearly defined specifications give Additive Manufacturing the right foot up. This is followed by the collection of data through every step of production, identifying discrepancies early for quick remediation. We can also use the data collected to find room for improvements and maximize the production lines for the highest output and quality.

Knowing the Basis of Design

All base structures encompass a collection of information and specifications or basis of design from which to build. Having a database that is up to date and maintained will keep incoming and outgoing products aligned.

The specifications define what success looks like by outlining materials, processes, equipment, testing requirements, and the end product results. Specs for a simple material could range from stating that a base material needs to be stainless steel (SS) to identifying that it should be a 310, 304, or 316 SS. The variables between define malleability, additive materials, corrosion resistance, purity, and strength. Depending on the use, a different material may be specified.

Specifications further outline how the material is to be handled. This is critical for some materials, which could become brittle with excess heat. For example, welded SS, if overheated, may deteriorate over time. This flaw is visible in welds as sugaring (the visible breakdown of the SS through crystallizing) and heat arcs (excess heat changing the color of the SS). To prevent the damaged product from moving to the next step in production, the specs contain any testing or inspections required. They also help define the control plan, detailing criteria for acceptance. The plan looks at testing and inspections for various phases of production, assuring adherence to specifications.

Every quality control plan should identify and define the following elements:

  • Quality production objectives, including uniformity, cost, production time, efficiency, and resources. 
  • Documented standards, just like the specifications
  • Document control methods, including storage, turnover, and audit procedures
  • Responsibilities of all parties involved, from inspection to manufacturing and maintenance
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs), to identify achievements to the overall quality production objectives
  • Inspection procedures and schedules, especially inspections or testing not indicated in the specifications

The quality control plan supplements and supports the specifications, adding overall objectives that exceed the individual part, piece, or material needs. When integrating Bluestreak | Bright AM with the MES and QMS, the databases communicate with enterprise and manufacturing resource planning systems for full transparency of shop floor progress.

Beyond the materials, equipment must align with specifications as well. As we use the specified SS and make sure it never overheats and compromises its structural integrity, we must look at the heat source: the equipment. All equipment should meet several forms of qualification before being used in Additive Manufacturing lines. This includes design, operational, and performance qualifications, all of which ensure that the equipment maintains specifications during production.

  • Design qualifications: Does the equipment appear to meet the intended design? 
  • Operational qualifications: Does the equipment operate smoothly, as intended, and without jamming or damaging products?
  • Performance qualifications: Does the equipment produce products that meet specifications?

Each step through production, Bluestreak | Bright AM tracks the product against the specifications. The specifications are stored and maintained in the database, allowing quick reference when needed. The reporting structure uses the data collected to identify discrepancies and send a notification immediately.

Incoming parts are identified, reviewed, and tested or inspected for adherence to specifications. The right materials to start are critical to end-product success.

Adhering to Specifications during Production

Each step of an Additive Manufacturing production must conform to established requirements. Tracking is possible through real-time shop floor data collection and instant notifications. With any manufacturing, there are variable results.

Within the specifications and the data collected through the shop floor integration, the variables are identified. The SS base material can have a variance for additive ingredients, such as 408 SS, which has 11% chromium and 8% nickel. The allowable variance may be .5%. As the materials move through production, there are also allowable variances for size, which may be represented as a percentage or a measurement, such as 1/16”. In an acceptance curve, any data collected that falls outside of the acceptable criteria needs to be removed from the production line for correction or disposal.

From the collected acceptance data, Bluestreak | Bright AM then tracks KPIs that allow a snapshot for the overall performance of the Additive Manufacturing production line. KPIs may be defined by indicating a percentage of product that falls within acceptance criteria throughout production.

As an example, the SS that is moving through the production line may be inspected at various stages, and the KPI is 97% acceptance of heat inspections throughout. 

At the incoming material inspection, depending on the intended use, the material is tested for compressive and tensile strength, as well as visual indicators and even chemical analysis. Most material vendors will provide this full analysis as their quality check before leaving their manufacturing. The KPIs allow us to know which outlying criteria exclude the material from proceeding through manufacturing.

During Additive Manufacturing processes, the KPIs should be evaluated and tracked. The outputs from Bluestreak | Bright AM are tracked, and outliers trigger notifications. These will cover the base materials, basis of design, equipment used, criteria during production (such as temperature), and the production staff who have touched it each step of the way. These metrics allow tracking for material, equipment, and people. KPIs for production staff help indicate when someone requires additional training or is having difficulties with a specific task, as well as if they can perform better in a different area of work on the floor.

Adjusting to Change

Even when things change, Bluestreak | Bright AM keeps track of the most updated information and ensures that production is following only the current data. Specifications and qualifications change over time, so tracking to an old spec is detrimental. Bluestreak | Bright AM manages real-time changes to part specs, requirements, and the sequence of processing steps through production.

As revisions to specs are made, the data collected will be referenced to the current specification. Previously collected data is compared to previous revisions. If a specification is changed mid-production, the changes can be implemented or previous specs carried until the current product reaches the end of production, but all new products entering production would adhere to the revisions.

With spec revisions and Bluestreak | Bright AM’s real-time data collection and notification, we can see the story of each product. From incoming material data and production floor activities to equipment performance and production staff involvement, Bluestreak | Bright AM provides integrated data collection for visibility of all variables.

The data tells all

Without the data to back up the integrity of the product, visual inspection is not enough. Specifics, such as temperatures for each process, should be monitored because overheating impacts the structural integrity of many materials. As discussed for SS and many other materials, the environment they are subjected to during manufacturing has a significant impact on the quality of the final product. 

Collecting the data isn’t enough. We have to compare and track against specifications and KPIs. How does the data look against quality control guidelines? Quality control management with the provided data from Bluestreak | Bright AM assists in identifying where improvements can be made. These improvements range from equipment settings, needed maintenance, staff training, or repeat flawed materials. Identifying the root cause of a quality issue is critical to solving it long term, providing the right data to identify where the changes must be made. Correcting a change without correcting the root cause leads to repeat errors, increased production costs, and lost time due to rework and wasted materials.

A product that doesn’t meet customer standards can either damage the customer relationship or cause cost and schedule delays. Communication with stakeholders and management about plans to rectify non-conformances is a must. When a quality issue arises that cannot be solved immediately, the clients or stakeholders need to be notified to avoid being blindsided by lost production time and to schedule delays in receiving the end product.

When non-conformances arise, the plans to fix and avoid them in the future are valuable. Bluestreak | Bright AM’s data collection and real-time notifications provide insight into equipment performance. As for performance slips, it indicates the need for preventative maintenance before failure occurs. This would be shown through a slow decrease in KPIs. The results may not be outside of acceptable criteria, but to avoid schedule delays for equipment that needs to be completely re-tooled or delays because an entire batch of product has to be scrapped, we can identify the need for maintenance before it becomes detrimental.

When things go wrong, time is critical. Bluestreak | Bright AM provides real-time shop floor notifications that can integrate into existing material and financial tracking platforms. The Bluestreak | Bright AM software can be accessed anywhere you have internet service. The sooner that a problem is identified, the sooner that it can be fixed, with less waste, rework, and impact to cost and schedule.

Within the real-time data lies the ability to follow the product information through each step, which helps narrow down where issues may have arisen, allowing focused investigation for areas of improvement and preventative measures. The audit trail is not only a great tool for root cause analysis, but it also maintains data for auditors at a moment’s notice. Imagine implementing Bluestreak | Bright AM software to your production floor, and the next time an auditor arrives, you pull up all the data of a product via a few simple clicks. It’s that simple and requires minimal file maintenance. Bluestreak | Bright AM makes it easy to focus on other aspects of business and keeps the data aligned for you.

Maximizing the Production Line

Underutilization of your production floor is lost money. Why have the floor space or the machinery if you’re not going to use it effectively? Using the equipment you have helps you stay profitable, as well as planning to only build the space for the equipment you need, depending on if you already have a facility.

Every facility has a maximum production capacity, or what they can efficiently make with minimal quality issues, equipment breakdown, and according to their available workforce. The facility’s plans to expand will also fall within capacity planning, assuring that the place can grow with the demand. A useful tool for this type of planning is shop floor data, providing insight into each phase of production.

For example: There’s a production sequence that is three steps long, and your production floor wants to produce 100 products per hour. Steps 1 and 2 both produce their products at a rate of 100 per hour. But Step 3 can only produce fifty per hour.

Once all three steps are full, you would achieve fifty per hour, with one of each piece of equipment, because the third step slows down efficiency. Instead of installing a complete second set, the production floor would only need a second set of Step 3 equipment.

Bluestreak | Bright AM’s shop floor data can further identify delays, quality flaws, and deteriorating products to identify efficiency as it relates to quality and maintenance. Now the equipment can produce 150 products per hour and has a defect rate of thirty-five (23%). When we scale the equipment down to 120 per hour, it runs more efficiently with a defect rate of only ten (8%).

Using this data, we can maximize the shop floor efficiency by parsing the production speed back to 120 per hour. Though this produces five less per hour overall, it saves an additional 16% on reduced scrap materials. Bluestreak | Bright AM looks at data from all angles to help identify such improvements and areas for increased efficiency.

However, we all have our limits, the equipment can only go so fast, and the facility is only so big. Knowing what products need which materials and what must be processed through which equipment allows for prioritizing critical work first, as well as planning the most efficient transition between products, minimizing changes from scope to scope.

Bluestreak | Bright AM stores specifications and quality management documents in a single source, using the details to identify where changes are needed. A strong basis to start the manufacturing process leads to high-quality production. The real-time tracking through software integration brings issues to light quickly. The further a product moves before correction, the harder and more expensive it is to correct.

Product X

To tie all this together, let’s investigate Product X. 

Product X is created through Additive Manufacturing with primarily 304 SS. The incoming material must meet compressive and tensile strength testing with a minimum break pressure of T +/- 3%. To fully manufacture Product X, the incoming material must process through four stages of Additive Manufacturing. The machine can produce up to 500 units per hour. Each stage is detailed below with associated expenses.

  1.  Additive Process 1
    1. Incoming inspection: $0.35/unit
    2. Equipment evaluation: $0.002/unit
    3. Additive materials: $0.12/unit
    4. Inspection at end of step: $0.15/unit
  2. Additive Process 2
    1. Equipment evaluation: $0.002/unit
    2. Additive materials: $0.12/unit
    3. Inspection at end of step: $0.15/unit
    4. Strength test: $0.70/unit
  3. Additive Process 3
    1. Equipment evaluation: $0.002/unit
    2. Additive materials: $0.12/unit
    3. Inspection at end of step: $0.15/unit
  4. Additive Process 4
    1. Equipment evaluation: $0.002/unit
    2. Additive materials: $0.12/unit
    3. Inspection at end of step: $0.15/unit
    4. Pressure test internal vessels: $0.87/unit
  5. Final Inspection and Testing $0.55/unit

This brings each product to a total value of $3.56/unit.

Example 1

Through real-time shop floor monitoring, we receive a notification that the strength test at Process 2 is failing 17% of the time. In traditional manufacturing tracking, appropriate management may not be notified for several days. It is anticipated that the strength test will see a 1-3% failure, so 17% raises a red flag.

When the data for Process 2 is reviewed through Bluestreak | Bright AM’s integration, we can compare what has changed from the day that the error occurred to previous days with lower failure rates. This includes looking at who has been running the equipment, the state of the equipment, performance temperature, and time frame since the last preventative maintenance sequence.

The notification was instantly received, the root cause investigated, and our temperature sensors recalibrated to bring the equipment back within functional specifications for adequate manufacturing. The equipment was down for a total of two hours for investigation and repairs. Production is behind by 1,085 units (two hours downtime, plus eighty-five failed products), or $3,862 loss. Had this continued for two or three days, production would have been behind over 2,000 units. Had the data not been compiled continuously for equipment and materials, it may have taken a maintenance crew several days to troubleshoot and discover the errors, resulting in another several thousand units behind schedule, equivalent to $14,000 loss.

The shop floor data and real-time notifications helped raise the flag on an issue quickly and provide insightful data to solving the problem quickly. This ultimately resulted in a savings of over $10,000.

Example 2

A second example of the power to leverage software in Additive Manufacturing assumes that there was a significant failure at the end of process inspection for Process 1, resulting in a 35% failed inspection.

In Scenario 1, the real-time notifications provide insight that the failure rate is approaching 10%, when it should maintain below 3%. For a single manufacturing hour, we can stop the equipment and investigate the root cause of failure. One hour of the damaged product at 10% failure has fifty failed units that were not allowed to proceed to Process 2. At $0.62/unit during Process 1, it becomes a $31.10 loss. All passed inspections continue to Process 2. The real-time data allowed for quick action to pull the product and investigate for correction.

In Scenario 2, the failed inspections are documented, but no action is taken until reports are turned in at the end of the week. The delay in action allowed the failure rate to creep up to 35%. These items were not removed from the production line, and they proceeded through all four steps. The loss per unit is no longer $0.62, but the full $3.56. With eight-hour days, 500 units per hour for five days, 20,000 units were processed, and 7,000 of them are defective. This results in $24,920 in lost material and $24,920 behind the production schedule.

In addition to the scrapped materials and lost product, the shop floor data missing from the old report didn’t evaluate the equipment performance or provide a complete audit trail. It took the maintenance team three days to find and repair the equipment, putting production 12,000 units behind schedule, or another $42,720 loss.

The strategic leverage for shop floor data is the real-time notifications and tracking of variables throughout the Additive Manufacturing process. Bluestreak | Bright AM brings transparency to the production floor, ties it to the existing ERP systems, and streamlines evaluation throughout.

You can’t afford to not track your Additive Manufacturing closely. With the data provided, the decisions to scale and grow can be easily identified and executed.

Bright AM helps Additive Manufacturers rid themselves of production floor headaches by giving them real-time traceability of all parts and personnel, allowing them to increase efficiency and reduce scrap and rework.

To find out how Bright AM can help your Additive Manufacturing business grow, eliminate costly human errors, and lock in your clients, contact us for a free consultation today!