The Roles of MES and QMS in Additive Manufacturing Business Success

The Roles of MES and QMS in Additive Manufacturing Business Success

Bright AM

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The critical role of MES and QMS in quality control, continuous process improvement, and crisis response

Quality escapes, failed audits, and the role of MES and QMS

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) typically don’t realize that they have a problem until one of their downstream service providers (often, specialized heat treatment service providers or finishing partner firms) fails an audit. When this happens, the consequences can be severe. From lost sales to unrecoverable customers, the impact of botched orders not only impacts the “big guy,” but it can also be the end of the line for the “little” services provider.

Operations managers in these downstream, or auxiliary, roles are beholden to larger OEMs because they often win contracts on the basis of allowing the bigger provider to essentially outsource a portion of their process so both entities can specialize. This allows each concerned party to improve the skills and abilities of their workforce in order to avoid overextending personnel and hopefully, build a better product at a lower cost, due to training, hiring, and related tasks becoming less complex.

When an audit does not go according to plan, the operations manager finds themselves facing either a threat to their company’s business or an opportunity to improve the current process. When seeking to resolve the issue, the operations manager often looks to software as a solution (SaaS). But with so many options, they may face analysis paralysis by trying too many at once to avoid the ire of legacy employees who distrust computer-based scheduling, while convincing upper management that another investment in a paired manufacturing execution system (MES) and quality management system (QMS) is the best solution for all parties along the value chain.

The role of MES and QMS in a downstream Additive Manufacturing facility goes well beyond the audit, however, and can allow for still more specialization, which directly boosts the bottom line.

The inescapable industrial audit

The purpose of an inspection is not to bring production to a halt for two to three days (though this is often the result when a process is no longer within upper or lower control limits). Rather, an audit is designed to ensure that industry and product specifications are being met and to ensure the safety of employees, the final product, and ultimately, the end users.

Should a firm not pass an annual inspection, it can be either a threat to the business or an opportunity to improve the bottom line.

Few Additive Manufacturers lack quality escapes or are otherwise flawless, though this is the aim of incorporating internal audits and other Lean Six Sigma best practices. In this way, operations managers, who know their processes inside and out, have control over when they implement new timesaving and cost-cutting measures. The role of MES and QMS ahead of an internal or external audit becomes essential.

Both systems work in concert to identify quality defects easily attributable to incorrect machine calibration parameters or poor material inputs. The MES will send an alert about any potential negative impacts ahead of final assembly and delivery to downstream users.

The MES from Bluestreak | Bright AM is easily tailorable to pre-existing processes and can discover areas that might benefit from waste reduction efforts or other Kaizen-like events.

You may not believe that your process is suitable for such great innovative leaps, but know that the one-two combo of MES and QMS can also lead to better organization, which translates to reductions in scrap, audit times going from three days to just one shift, and most importantly, happier and more productive employees.

In order to see the positive impact of MES and QMS on morale, look no further than employees being able to specialize in their current role through better job prioritization, work order staging, access to updated or revised instructions, and ultimately, machine ute rates.

Repeatability becomes nearly automated with less scrap, fewer defects, and a workforce eager to learn new skills.

The role of MES and QMS when approaching potential partner firms

Post-processing firms and software companies stand to inherit a great deal of work from their upstream or downstream partners if they can fully integrate their MES and QMS processes with larger manufacturing firms. Consider that more than 153 manufacturers expect their “build to order” and engineered to order (ETO) requests to increase by 52% in the coming years, which means highly specialized, post-processing firms need to be ready for an increase in work and a spike in quality defect injection.

The role of MES and QMS in this outsourcing to a specialized Additive Manufacturer means that all systems will be integrated and can generate real-time updates at the click of a button. Prioritization, reprioritization, status updates, and traceability all happen beyond the scope of an already harried Additive Manufacturing firm. QMS and MES can also function on behalf of back-of-house billing cycles, as well as accounts receivable transactions.

Not only does a symbiotic MES and QMS mean that a smaller “finisher” or heat treatment firm can make “captive” a larger firm’s need for specialized modifications or goods, but it can also turn them into the go-to vendor across entire industries, such as aerospace or transportation.

Anticipating and responding to the unexpected

When MES and QMS function as one, the ability for a small, specialized Additive Manufacturer to respond in times of crises increases tenfold. Let’s consider the COVID-19 pandemic as a sort of case study.

As the world realized that traditional manufacturing could not keep pace with the exponential demand for face masks, shields, and other personal protective equipment (PPE), Additive Manufacturers rose to the occasion. Given the nature of the disease, many world governments formed collectives that began to manufacture medical components, ventilator vales, safety goggles, and spare parts that otherwise would have taken weeks, if not months, to reproduce. The role of MES and QMS, as provided by companies like Bluestreak | Bright AM, meant that the collaborative nature of such endeavors expedited their use in life-or-death situations.

Quality assurance and QMS protocols become increasingly important in such situations. For Additive Manufacturers, the role of MES and QMS means that partner firms can trust that they will not only manufacture or modify a medical part to spec but also accept all feedback and protect IP rights.

Though a sad and unfortunate use case, the COVID-19 crisis should highlight that small enterprises being ready to partner with bigger firms in order to modify PPE and the like is no longer optional, but rather essential.

Conclusion

Necessity is the mother of invention—and innovation, as has clearly been demonstrated by the above. Being ready to take part in problem-solving or enter into contractual negotiations in order to win a contract bid with an industry-leading firm means having MES and QMS processes in place that demonstrate such readiness.

Bluestreak | Bright AM offers these capabilities for the small to medium enterprise looking to automate record-keeping processes and workflows, all while keeping the customer just a click away from knowing exactly when their latest order will be dispatched back into the value stream.

If your service includes Additive Manufacturing, we provide specific solutions in our Bright AM software. To request an Additive Manufacturing software demo, click here!