The advent of additive manufacturing doesn’t need to spell an end to quality control.
Additive manufacturing isn’t just changing the way we make things; it’s shaping the way we
design them, too. Officially classified under seven distinct technologies, Additive
Manufacturing’s popular moniker is 3D Printing; a term that has become more common
thanks to a wide range of low-cost, often ‘crowd-funded’ printers that allow anyone to turn
abstract visions into physical entities.
In the industrial world, however, 3D printing isn’t quite so accessible to the casual user. To
be viable, the accuracy and consistency with which products are manufactured must be
much higher than that offered by a Maker’s solution; assured through the process of
measuring objects using a CMM (Coordinate Measurement Machine).
Now that its use is broadening to include bespoke medical implants, 3D printing can deliver
a level of personalisation that could never be economically achieved through traditional
manufacturing methods. However, traditional CMM is now the weak link; as well as being
slow and cumbersome in comparison with the manufacturing process, it actually has the
potential to damage the surface of the implant, thereby jeopardising both the quality and
the benefits offered by the 3D printing process.
This dichotomy presents a new challenge for manufacturers. They have the means to
manufacture objects that might otherwise be impossible to make, but no way of measuring
their accuracy. This is the real risk to the opportunity presented by all additive
manufacturing technologies; without viable quality control, the process cannot be
Of course, anything can be measured given enough time and the right equipment; two very
expensive commodities. Non-contact metrology is evolving rapidly to meet this challenge,
but to be successful in a production environment it needs to meet two prerequisites; it
needs to be fast and it needs to be affordable.
Non-contact metrology that is both fast and affordable would allow a CMM to become an
integral part of the production line, working in near real-time to influence and help control
the manufacturing process. It would relegate off-line metrology to the history books and
remove a major obstacle to realising the full potential of 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing has the potential to revolutionise many industries, not only the
medical implant sector. White light based non-contact metrology offers a commensurate
level of quality control that is unparalleled by any other form of CMM. The advent of
additive manufacturing doesn’t need to spell an end to quality control.