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The $.Q.A.T. principle

Posté le 19/09/2019

The $.Q.A.T. principle
By Samuel Schneider
Knowing what matters to manufacturers

 

 

    When looking at all the new technologies susceptible to change forever the nature of manufacturing, we believe 3D printing has this kind of potential since it’s heavily oriented toward digitalization and shows compatibility with AI. But in its current state, additive manufacturing is not delivering yet at a level where it is a no-brainer for businesses to adopt the technology.

Now, many companies have made an effort to optimize their systems in order to make them cheaper, more reliable or able to build at a faster rate but none of them have been successful at optimizing every single aspect in a “single swoop”. The reason is that, as a whole, companies have omitted to focus on the area they thought they couldn’t change.

A common tread

Due to a fundamental scientific constraint, some non-metal and every metal additive manufacturing systems are being limited in their evolution. What is this constraint?’ You might ask. We’ll get back to this momentarily but before we need to explain how did the $QAT came to be and what does it mean because without it, the elegant reasoning behind the solution to our previous problem will not seem evident.

$.Q.A.T.

Each time we had to interact with the people of the 3D printing community, users, builders, and clients, we took it as an opportunity to dig deeper into what made a system better than another and which ones showed that it was bringing value to them. Interestingly enough, we managed to categorize three main areas common to every additive manufacturing system. Namely, the pre-production phase, the printing phase and lastly, the finishing phase where cooking, cleaning, and polishing of the part happens.

At that point, we had a very clear picture of the possible areas which could be optimized. And then abstract four major points that every optimization attempt would try to enhance. Here’s what we learned: each tweak is made to either reduce final costs ($), to improve on the quality of the parts printed (Q), to ameliorate the adaptability of the process (A) or to save on time needed to make the parts (T).

This gave us our framework, the $QAT. We know now what matters and what key elements are trying to be solved. But instead of doing what everyone else did, which is to focus on the step that regrouped most of these elements, specifically the post-processing step, we took the bull by the horns and managed to break the frontier no one suspected could be broken. We call it: The 20 microns frontier.

An unexpected friend

The structural quality and finish of a printed piece are in direct correlation with the minimal voxel of the 3D printing system. The resolution will depend on your material’s particle size. What this means is that to get a stronger and better quality end result, the ideal method should consist of using the smallest particle size possible, which in turn would reduce greatly the amount of polishing needed. Cascading into a reduction in time, in cost and upgrading the overall quality of your final parts. So why isn’t everyone doing this?

Because most 3D printers haven’t found a way to circumvent what a recently published MIT paper revealed.

It explained how beyond a certain size, about 20 microns, the cohesive forces between the particles is stronger than gravity, which results in the agglomeration
of the particles, rather than in the formation of a smooth layer. This limitation in resolution, so crucial to the domino effect we’re looking for, is also what allows an unexpected after-effect: the same cohesive forces limiting others to build with sub-micron particles are then helping the parts keep its integrity without the need to incorporate support structures that are going to be removed anyway at the post-processing phase.

Combining our expertise in nanofabrication and additive manufacturing, we now have a viable solution to the 20 microns frontier. Being able to work with smaller size powders is what enabled the resolution of the $QAT principle: Diminishing the ($)cost and the (T)ime while improving the (Q)uality and the (A)daptability of the system. In other words, solving a complex problem by making the process simpler to give 3D printing users what they want and need out of AM.
The ability to play with scientific phenomena at different stages of the manufacturing process is what will set companies apart in any technological ecosystem and it will be no different for additive manufacturing.

Conclusion

Bringing it back to the main topic, the $QAT principle has been used until now as a reminder of the characteristics that are deemed as an added value to the user. But it is also a great method to evaluate quantitatively and qualitatively your current production method against a different one you’re considering.
Whether you’re helping to run a company that is going to leverage future technologies like 5G networks, IoT and AI or simply trying to make a better and unique timepiece, it is never too soon to acquire new knowledge to help you make a more enlightened decision. And while this whitepaper is more of a very high view of the technological landscape proper to 3D printing rather than a precise deconstruction of the needs of any particular niche, it sets the foundation for a new way of understanding the issues and solutions for additive manufacturing.

Metal Cogs photograph by Bill Oxford