Additive Manufacturing

Proto Labs: How Digitalization Ensures Quality in Manufacturing – Pre-Production

Source: ProtoLabs Blog

Many manufacturers do this by gaining and maintaining rigorous quality systems certifications, or through programs such as Lean and Six Sigma. Having these assurances in place helps prevent mistakes or defects and delivers manufactured parts that meet customers’ expectations.

Plus, quality initiatives are just good business practices. Quality controls can help minimize waste and increase productivity. Satisfying customers with product that meets their expectations invites future business.

Like many other manufacturers, Proto Labs has a commitment to quality control that is a key part of its three rapid manufacturing services: 3D printing (additive manufacturing), CNC machining, and injection molding. Proto Labs is ISO 9001 certified, with a standardized quality management system.

Unlike quality measures of traditional manufacturing systems—usually conducted at the end of the production chain—the quality system at Proto Labs is present throughout the entire manufacturing process. And it’s all controlled by a vast network of automation software and hardware communicating through the digital thread.

Quality control starts the second a 3D CAD model is uploaded to our company’s online quoting system, and doesn’t end until parts are shipped out the door. Let’s follow the digital thread to see how a digitalized quality system is connected from start to finish. In part I, which follows below, we look at quality controls found in pre-production. Part II will look at quality and the production process. Part III examines general inspection and continuous improvement initiatives.

Before a 3D printing build begins, process engineers add support structures if necessary and determine part orientation to optimize quality on critical features.
Pre-Production: Improving Quality before Manufacturing Begins

The thread starts when part designers upload a 3D CAD model at Proto Labs’ website. Within minutes, an automated quote with interactive design for manufacturability (DFM) feedback is provided on machining and molding orders.

The DFM analysis helps to optimize part design and includes design considerations with suggested changes such as incorporating undercuts, adding draft, reducing wall thickness, or modifying surface finishes, which all help improve manufacturability and avoid costly reworks of a mold. This DFM analysis also helps reduce manufacturing risks before any actual production begins, and is one of the first steps in quality control in this pre-production stage.

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