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Can 3-D Printing Match Manufacturing's Quality Demands?

May 7, 2015
3D Systems' Hugh Evans highlights additive manufacturing's next big challenge.

In his opening keynote at the 2015 Best Plants conference, Hugh Evans, vice president of corporate development and ventures at 3D Systems, highlighted all of the amazing developments and achievements in the additive manufacturing industry over the past 30 years.

The machines, he said, are finally ready to leave the R&D labs and enter full production on the plant floor.

"After this 30 years of development, these machines are faster, cheaper, more reliable, more durable, and use more materials," he explained. "Now we're finally seeing them enter production."

However, he noted a couple of very big concerns the technologies have to address before that transition can happen on a large scale: quality assurance and quality control.

"The biggest constraint right now is QA/QC," he explained. "We need to be able to validate that every part that comes out of that printer is repeatable, durable, and has the same material specs as the one before it."

While there are many new technologies and advancements aimed at solving those issues, it remains largely unexplored territory for 3D printing. And that is a big concern for manufacturers anxious to jump into the field.

"As long as the tool is being used in R&D and the part is meant to be destroyed, we didn't have to worry about QA/QC," he said. "But if I'm making hundreds or thousands of parts and those parts are flying an aircraft, there has to be tremendous QA/QC built around the process.

"That is really the biggest constraint right now: Building in that quality excellence."

Read more on Evans' insight on the 3D Printing Production Challenge at NED's sister site, IndustryWeek.