Quality control (QC) in Additive Manufacturing (AM) is one of the most important yet most challenging steps in the AM process. Without a formal strategy, manufacturers will suffer from poor quality. This means more waste, scrap, and rework. It will lead to more raw material costs, increased energy usage, and higher labor costs.
AM requires precision and consistency. Even slight deviations can cause significant problems.
Quality control in Additive Manufacturing requires consistent, repeatable processes for production parts before you can fully realize the benefits of AM.
Quality Doesn’t Happen by Accident
The quality control process helps catch mistakes when they happen and addresses them quickly before moving parts to the next stage. In AM, nonconformances that aren’t caught in one stage can be obscured by layers added in the next stage. If you don’t catch the mistakes when they occur, you may not find out that your parts won’t perform the way they should until the piece is finished.
A formal QC program will provide a platform for spotting deficiencies and instituting a corrective and preventive action (CAPA) to identify the source of problems and take the necessary steps to avoid a recurrence. While a program to manage quality control in Additive Manufacturing is crucial, a quality assurance (QA) program also needs to be put in place. QC focuses on identifying and correcting problems when they occur. QA is a commitment to preventing mistakes from happening in the first place to ensure that products are consistent, safe, and high quality.
It takes an extensible MES and QMS platform to manage the entire production process with end-to-end tracking and monitoring, with tight control over specifications, work orders, processes, testing, and compliance.
The Additive Manufacturing Quality Pyramid
You can think of the Additive Manufacturing quality process as a pyramid. At the base is information management. When it comes to quality control in Additive Manufacturing, you can’t manage quality without a way to manage that information across the entire build process.
Applying quality control in Additive Manufacturing requires a holistic approach. Each layer of the pyramid is built upon the foundation underneath. Underpinning everything is the information management that takes place. If the flow from the information management to the top of the pyramid—the end product—isn’t designed holistically, the quality will suffer and expenses will rise.
How Bluestreak | Bright AM Manages Quality Control and Quality Assurance
Bluestreak | Bright AM is software designed specifically for the Additive Manufacturing industry and follows an order from entry to production to shipment. It manages data with real-time visibility to everyone in the production chain who needs access. This eliminates information silos and confusing paper trails.
A paperless workflow makes sure everyone is working off the most current data, including change orders or CAPAs. With complete traceability throughout the entire build lifecycle, Bluestreak | Bright AM allows operators to manage multiple projects, volume packing, and development queues. The system tracks equipment maintenance, inventory control, and document management.
This makes for easier management of nonconformances and disposition of scrap and allows parts to go down different processing paths without breaking the audit trail. Quality management is tied directly to individual operators on the production floor. When change orders occur, parts cannot be processed until operators on the production floor acknowledge and sign off. AM parts won’t move to the next phase until testing has been successful, including the validation of dynamic part quantities.
When the process works smoothly, the results can be spectacular. For example, GE Aviation and GE Additive are partners. They use Bluestreak | Bright AM to track their entire production process of 3D-printed parts, including outside vendor services. These companies are using AM software for 3D part printing for the F110 jet engine used on the F-15 and F-16 aircraft. GE Additive generates unique serial numbers for each part being printed and tracks each serial number during the process, including advanced disposition control of nonconformances. Compliance with AS9100, Nadcap, MedAccred, NIST, ISO, and more is ensured throughout. GE Aviation also recently announced that it was able to reduce 855 separate parts to just twelve using AM. More than a third of the Advanced Turboprop commercial aircraft engine is now 3D printed.
Bluestreak | Bright AM Improves Quality Control in Additive Manufacturing
For quality control in Additive Manufacturing, combined with a formal quality assurance program, Bluestreak | Bright AM can minimize and even eliminate mistakes to reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve quality. That’s why Bluestreak | Bright AM is currently being used by some of the world’s largest Additive Manufacturing production facilities.
If your service includes Additive Manufacturing, we provide specific solutions in our Bright AM software. To request an Additive Manufacturing software demo, click here!