Lou Kren Lou Kren
Senior Editor

Rapid Advances in Process Reliability and Process Capability

August 10, 2020

In his recent presentation, Achieving Process Reliability with AM Metals, during our 3D Metal Printing Experience and Tech Tour, Andrew Carter, senior manufacturing engineer at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, made a number of interesting observations.

Here’s one: Seasoned manufacturing and quality engineers might argue that additive manufacturing (AM) is not ready for prime time because AM advocates still are talking about controlling repeatability, when we should be talking about process capability.

It’s a valid consideration, but Carter and other presenters during the July event went on to describe the tremendous inroads already made in controlling process repeatability through extensive experience, measurement and testing, and use of powerful software and databases. That leads to another point from Carter: “Machine capacity is a good metric of how seriously an organization takes AM, but it is far from the sole metric that an AM vendor needs to be evaluated on. It is a company’s method of how it controls materials, process parameters and machines that is the true measure of the caliber of an AM contract manufacturer.”

Having the proof available for customers and regulators obviously lays a solid business foundation for the AM contract manufacturer, as customers gain assurance that from one part to the next, part quality and material characteristics remain steady and within accepted requirements. Beyond that, such qualifications nearly always are required, and certainly are in high-stakes mission- and life-critical aerospace and medical applications. Ultimately, process repeatability teamed with process capability represents the ideal, and the AM industry rapidly is working toward that reality.

“As more manufacturers begin to incorporate AM for the printing of production parts, successfully moving beyond prototyping depends on a timely and cost-effective approach to process qualification,” points out Brad Kuvin, 3D Metal Printing editorial director, in his article, Mastering Workflow for Part Qualification, beginning on page 25 of this issue. “Companies must learn how to develop a methodical and scalable approach for measuring and characterizing AM materials, processes and parts.”

And they are, with the article highlighting,―similar to Carter’s presentation,―the need for materials characterization along with qualification of machines and processes.

“Process evaluation requires thoughtful attention to each step in the workflow,” Mike Vasquez, Ph.D., CEO and founder of 3Degrees LLC, explains in Kuvin’s article. “Any changes, regardless of how small or large, to how you design or orient the part, or to the machine parameters or finishing processes, all will impact the final part. Outlining and documenting this workflow, then, represents a huge step to becoming confident that you’ll wind up with functioning parts, using a process that is sustainable for production and not just for limited production of prototypes.”

Companies such as 3Degrees can help guide companies as they develop strategies for benchmarking material properties, creating appropriate operating/storage instructions, testing, and ultimately, digitally tracking the lifecycle of materials throughout the AM production workflow.

The bottom line: Now more than ever, the AM industry has the means to develop materials characterization and qualify machines and processes. The spoils will go to those who can prove it all out.

Industry-Related Terms: Additive manufacturing
View Glossary of 3D Metal Printing Terms


See also: Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, 3degrees, LLC

Technologies: Software


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