Additive Manufacturing has so much potential to transform the industry, from creating lighter, more efficient materials to streamlining the manufacturing process itself. Despite these benefits, scaling Additive Manufacturing still has serious challenges, including quality control.
Tracking quality control issues can be problematic for Additive Manufacturers, but there are potential solutions. As Additive Manufacturing gains steam in the coming years, it’s essential to understand the industry’s unique challenges. Let’s explore why quality control tracking can be difficult and what manufacturers can do to overcome these obstacles.
The first challenge ties directly to the types of materials that Additive Manufacturing uses. Traditional manufacturing has undergone years of development in both process and specifications, but additive materials don’t have that same advantage.
This leaves Additive Manufacturing open to a more narrow scope of history in terms of established specifications, which could leave manufacturers open to poor quality reports simply through lack of precedent.
Additive Manufacturing also doesn’t have universal standards across different fields. Traditional manufacturing may be varied, but they have similar quality control specifications for their raw materials. Additive Manufacturing has very little scope to establish quality control and fewer resources to draw on from other fields.
Even with a certain amount of quality control in place, the iterative nature of Additive Manufacturing means multiple materials recycling, especially in new projects. Additive materials are often used for prototyping, so reuse is much higher than in traditional manufacturing.
IT Integration Challenges
Traditional manufacturing may lag behind other industries in IT integration, but Additive Manufacturing still relies on the manual processes that much of traditional manufacturing is leaving behind.
Additive Manufacturing remains largely in the realm of prototyping, so it can be difficult to automate the way that mass production does. Plus, current solutions are focused heavily on mass manufacturing principles. Many IT solutions aren’t designed for highly specialized or prototype parts, so quality control looks a little different.
Process control isn’t advanced enough to automate, which makes it difficult to track quality mishaps from iteration to iteration. It’s also challenging to track quality control effectively because everything is on a product-by-product basis.
While Additive Manufacturing is full of innovative and knowledgeable people, there’s still room for human error, especially due to lack of experience with Additive Manufacturing materials. Traditional materials offer plenty of historical and experiential access, but Additive Manufacturing is an entirely different story, with novel materials that employees may not have encountered.
The technology in Additive Manufacturing is also a large knowledge gap. It is a relatively new field and equipment changes regularly. This could leave many processes unwritten, relying on verbal instructions and processes as team members work their way through unfamiliar tech.
Overall, the lack of infrastructure and a reliable communication hub can mean that vital records are lost. Relying on human intervention so heavily for process controls makes it difficult to establish the chain of responsibility and puts your organization at risk of losing track of important quality improvements.
Overcoming These Challenges
Additive Manufacturing can overcome these quality control challenges by using a mixture of software and human intervention. The key is finding software integrations designed specifically for the unique world of Additive Manufacturing and its materials.
- Automation software is the key. Automation reduces the risk of human error in a field still heavily reliant on manual processes. It also streamlines record keeping and provides a clear chain of responsibility.
- Granular level process control can be used for specialized parts. Most software integrations are designed for mass production. Instead of forcing these solutions into the world of Additive Manufacturing, solutions designed specifically for granular level process control and specialization will improve overall quality control through customization.
- Reliable process controls require customization. Additive Manufacturing must gain reliable process controls even outside of mass production to remain sustainable. Tech integrations that consider these unique materials, small-batch production levels, and recycling are a must to prevent accidental quality loopholes and risks.
- A global communications hub offers full communication and a complete chain of responsibility. The biggest component of tracking quality control is having one source of truth to manage information across the entire build cycle. A global communications hub puts all records in one place and provides access to stakeholders throughout the pipeline.
Additive Manufacturing may not have the large scale production of traditional manufacturing (yet), but software designed to automate and communicate even with small production levels and novel materials is possible. Implementing these types of solutions—combining customization and robust communication for human oversight—is the only way that manufacturers can stay on top of tracking quality control and preventing gaps.
Perfecting the Quality Control Process for Additive Manufacturing
With the right technology integrations, Additive Manufacturing can streamline quality control and remove the tracking issues that plague the industry as a whole. Additive Manufacturing is still catching up to traditional manufacturing’s development, but the industry has much potential to produce products at scale with the right tools.
The biggest takeaway is automation, allowing Additive Manufacturers to track changes at the individual level and ensure smooth communications across the shop floor. Bluestreak | Bright AM can provide the solutions that Additive Manufacturers need to track quality issues and improve the overall process.
Bluestreak | Bright AM is designed exclusively for the Additive Manufacturing industry. Our best-of-class MES and QMS solutions bring quality control management to new levels. Contact Bluestreak | Bright AM today for a free demo!