One of the most important things in manufacturing, in general, is repeatably manufacturing correctly. The best-designed parts with all the best intentions, if not manufactured correctly, are not only faulty but can give a false sense of security. A small but critical component in a car that turns out to be faulty puts the driver, passengers, and surroundings in immediate danger, a danger that couldn’t and wasn’t anticipated. An ill-performing but good looking face mask can give people a sense of confidence to do things they would never do if they suspected it is not performing as imagined. This is true for every method of manufacturing and extends of course to additive manufacturing (AM).
Replacing a Part Without Compromise
One of the areas in which the use of AM applications is constantly growing is spare parts, where it is becoming a popular solution to the over-manufacturing of parts that may or may not be needed, such as in interior plane spare parts (below an additively manufactured panel for Airbus produced by Materialise). Yet these spare parts need to uphold the same standards (or similar) to the original parts. In some cases, an emergency spare part can be a suitable replacement. It might not be exactly the same as the original, and it might not be able to last as long but it definitely needs to be able to keep operations running smoothly for the time being. Just like your typical replacement tire, it is meant to bring you to the garage, perhaps you’ll need to drive slower with it but it most certainly needs to be safe to use (up top BMW metal spare parts production with AM). Even here, the customer knows this is a temporary tire (in the spare tire case it typically looks different than the other tires as well) so expects different performance from it.
It might be tempting to try and independently create a replacement part, 3D printing does make it easy to do so but there are certain things to take into consideration, some are variables unknown to the end-user. At the end of the day, a lack of knowledge can lead to a faulty part. But on the other hand, as we mentioned here before, waiting for a replacement part can be lengthy and costly. Therefore, a better solution can be that the company itself provides AM replacement parts on-demand, as a parallel service to their regular parts. This could prevent misuse, faulty parts, as well as customers turning elsewhere for replacement parts.
From Good Intentions to Correct Manufacturing
A timely example might be the 3D printing of face masks, shields, and other protective equipment used to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. There are many good intentions, amazing initiatives, and private people transforming their personal home printers into mini production facilities. But, and this is a big but, a mask or filter, for example, that is not manufactured correctly can cause more harm than good. It gives a false sense of security, a sense that you are protected while at times the opposite is the truth. A misproduced mask or filter can not only not protect, but it can also increase exposure.
In this case, where every person and printer can make a difference, there are ways to ensure correct manufacturing (below Lamborghini developed a 3D printed lung simulator for SIARE Engineering International Group using an HP printer). As the state of emergency recedes (we hope) and a new normal unfolds, companies will be adapting and updating their approach. The beginnings of that are already happening. For the next local or global outbreak or other supply chain failure, it doesn’t need to be either mass-produced by a small number of companies in a small number of locations, or on the other hand, unregulated private makers. Companies who produce these products regularly can securely collaborate with experts in the quick, agile, and innovative AM community to prepare a digital supply chain that will ensure a correct AM product each and every time it is needed, wherever it is needed even when the physical supply chain would struggle to accommodate. It requires a shift from individual initiatives to structured production and vice versa. For the current pandemic, non-profit organizations are trying to organize the individual effort and make sure they are correct and effective. America Makes, in collaboration with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the VA (the Department of Veterans Affairs), and NIH (the National Institutes of Health) are trying to do just that – streamlining the knowledge, fast-tracking certification processes, and providing an online repository.
Integrity in Manufacturing
COVID-19 is just one example. In AM where it seems that all you need in order to manufacture is a file and printer, the process is sometimes accompanied by a simplified and even DIY attitude. Yet AM experts know that, yes, this can be a relatively simple and efficient production process that is associated with a much more digital supply chain, but like any manufacturing technology it requires expertise, knowledge, and the implementation of them each and every time an item is produced. This starts with something simple like which of the different additive methods to use and continues to details of the workflow and printing itself. Therefore, additive manufacturing requires a controlled workflow, from design to production, to ensure correct and repeatable production every time anywhere. LEO Lane is all about helping with this problem, this is exactly where our experience and solution lies: providing a parallel lane of IP protection (Intellectual Property protection) and enforcement of correct, repeatable AM. Our tracking also shows when, where, and how each item was produced – great for compliance with certification and internal records.
What are the challenges you face on the road to ensuring correct additive manufacturing? Tell us about them in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.