As the world of 3D printing continues to evolve and new technologies and more and more professional materials emerge, it’s clear that 3D printing is quickly making its way into industrial series production. The technology not only enables companies to print complex geometries and small series parts cost and material efficiently, but it also enables them to decentralize and externalize their production processes and reduce overhead costs. Thus, supply chains become more robust and even more sustainable, as production takes place in the right amount at the right place and time.
However, with this newfound freedom comes a challenge: how to ensure the safety of the data used for 3D printing and make sure the parts produced meet the desired specifications. In an industrial setting, it is necessary to have a reliable and process-safe additive manufacturing process. The parts produced must be of consistent quality, and there must be a complete documentation and traceability of each component and files being used. In this article we want to discuss 3 ways of addressing these challenges: the use of secure end-to-end 3D printing platforms, the need of robust hardware and quality control systems.
The need of a centralized and secure 3D printing platform
Imagine a centralized hub for all your manufacturing needs, offering low infrastructure costs and a secure network for data transfers. This platform not only protects your valuable intellectual property by encrypting all data transfers, but also guarantees consistent printing quality no matter where or when the part is printed. This is what an encrypted 3D printing platform enables. Once a design together with all necessary manufacturing information is uploaded, the production parameters are locked, ensuring that the same printing quality can be achieved regardless of where and when the part is printed. Moreover, parts can only be produced in the specified quantity, and files cannot be easily shared or modified without permission. For consistency and documentation, files are versioned, and every change is diligently documented. Developing such infrastructure in-house is most likely too expensive and may not be a core competency for most manufacturing companies. An independent platform offers the opportunity to keep the costs of infrastructure low by providing it to many users, but keeping accounts separate and secure.
Robust hardware as the foundation of quality
Another important step in ensuring the reliability of 3D printing is to establish robust hardware in industrial processes. The printers themselves need to enable repeatable print jobs with consistent dimensional accuracy and material properties, and they need to be backed up by strong service and maintenance systems. This ensures that companies can quickly resolve any issues that arise during the printing process. Of course, also the material quality plays a crucial role in fulfilling repeatable quality, as only with consistent properties it will meet the specifications required for the application. It requires careful selection, testing and certification of materials, as well as the use of closed material handling systems to prevent contamination.
(Digital) quality assurance enables secured decentral production
Regular monitoring and quality control of the 3D printing process and the parts produced should be carried out to ensure that the parts produced meet the desired specifications. Moreover, they should provide complete traceability, from raw material used, the production process, and the post-processing steps. A digital inspection tool helps in fulfilling these requirements in an easy and lean way.
3D Printing platform Replique’s quality module RSure for example allows OEMs to set a digital quality control for 3D printing service providers (e.g. photo documentation, measurements, weight, surface roughness, and many more). These tests can be easily performed by the 3D printing service provider using a smartphone or computer. Additional hardware might be required.
The results of the quality control and production information of each part are documented and collected centrally on the platform, ensuring that OEMs have access to their data at all times and can adjust their printing files as needed. Quality assurance is needed to consistently check the effectiveness of the applied processes and parameters. it includes detailed information on materials, print start and end, build time, as well as material and build chamber temperature to name a few. The digital twin of the production process is important to ensure a complete process documentation which is common standard in other production processes. It allows part-specific monitoring and traceability, enabling the utilization of industrial 3D printing with confidence but also lock-in the process after qualification.
We believe that with the right processes, hardware, and digital workflows in place, 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing industry and change the way that products are made. In our eyes, the largest industrial companies in the 3D printing industry will play a critical role in shaping the future of this technology. With their experience in traditional quality assurance, they will be in a unique position to help drive the development of 3D printing and ensure that it becomes a reliable and repeatable process.
Find out more about the topic at the networking business summit Additive Manufacturing Strategies, taking place in New York City from February 7-9, 2023. Max Siebert, CEO and Co-Founder of Replique, will be taking part in Session 3, Panel 2: Innovations in the AM Contract Services Market, on February 9. Register for your ticket to attend here.
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