Approaching Quality & ISO 9001 with a Digital Mindset

Solutionology Stories Podcast Episode #25 | 22:16 min


In Episode #25, Carl Douglass and Brian Douglass have an in-depth discussion about quality with Hannah Kinder, Production Manager at DI Labs.

Quality can be a touchy subject in additive manufacturing because it often seems ambiguous and expectations can be very different between each client and project. Brian states that quality, which is considered a deliverable, and a digital mindset, which is a state of constant transition, can feel like oil & water. That’s because when people think of quality, they think of standardization and repeatability – not constant change.

The Cost of Quality

Quality is just one of three components of a successful project. The other two equally important components are timeline and cost. The goal is to strike the right balance between all three. Carl explains, “If you were to ask someone – would you accept poor quality? The answer would almost always be no. But it’s a tradeoff, especially in additive manufacturing because there are so many variables to control in addition to the variables of traditional manufacturing. There’s a bigger cost to quality, whether it’s time or dollars, in additive manufacturing.”

Clients don’t want the highest quality at any cost or timeline impact, so understanding expectations is critical.

Quality Defined

Hannah explains that every client defines quality based on one or all of these things: visual, dimensional tolerance, and functional performance. Visual quality is about having a beautiful surface finish with minimal imperfections. Dimensional tolerance means maintaining specific measurements and geometries, while functional quality is about the overall shape and performance of the part. Often these quality expectations are combined, which can add to the challenge of managing manufacturing variables inherent to additive manufacturing.

Culture Fuels Quality

To consistently meet quality expectations on a wide variety of parts and programs, the entire manufacturing team has to be on the same page. The DI Labs’ problem-solving culture and core values of learning and grit fuel our success. Hannah explains that her team is in a constant state of learning, changing, and improving. She shares, “DI Labs is very different from any job I’ve ever worked. We have a mindset that we’re always changing and that’s not a known thing for a lot of different industries. They are set in their ways, have one particular process, and follow that process – even if it’s not right. And there’s no room for improvement… With DI Labs, there’s always room for improvement… we’re innovative. We want to be sure we’re ahead of everyone in how we operate.”

ISO 9001 Certification

Recently, DI Labs was audited and third-party certified for ISO 9001:2015. It went very smoothly due to the foundation we’ve built over many years around our QMS, SOP, and ERP systems. The digital mindset we used to create a culture of continuous improvement had already pushed us to achieve uncompromising quality standards and the ISO 9001 process was the final step in confirming process documentation and consistency across the organization.

Why Not the Highest Level of Quality All the Time?

Carl asks Hannah, “So why not just produce everything to the highest level of quality regardless of the customer’s expectations?”

Hannah’s answer gets to the heart of the challenge, “That could cause the timeline to be longer, it could cause us to have higher scrap rates for non-conforming parts which means your product’s going to cost more, it could also mean we have to do geometry changes or optimize the part.” This goes back to understanding the tradeoffs of quality, timeline and cost.

Carl explains, “I think we, as an industry, don’t talk about this enough. Everybody touts high quality and everybody touts low cost because they want to promote technology and sales. But balancing those things – quality, timeline and cost – is something we all need to do a better job communicating so we can have those trade-offs and those levels pulled to the right degree.”

Implications of Quality Expectations on Scrap

The difficult truth is that scrap rates in additive manufacturing can vary widely based on the program, part geometry, and other factors. At DI Labs, It’s not unusual to have 5%, 10% or even 25% scrap rates on certain projects. That might sound high, but nonconforming parts get kicked out of our production process as soon as they are identified. In our final QC check we confirm that every part shipping meets client quality expectations.

That may not be the case for all additive providers. Brian explains, “When new clients come to us for the first time (they say) they’re getting those scrap rates in their hands. So they want 100 parts but they’re only getting 75 or 60 or 50 that are good. That cost (of scrap) is happening somewhere.” Carl adds, “So (with some providers) you may be paying less for parts, but you’re getting more parts that aren’t good.”

Often, quick lead times drive higher scrap rates. Brian adds, “If we can set the timeline up further in advance, we can go through a methodical journey of designing for their parts and scaling up their program with the least cost, least scrap possible.”

Based on his experience in traditional manufacturing, Carl comments, “A scrap rate of 10% is mind-blowing. In any other production process, 10% would mean the project is unprofitable. That’s the reality of additive manufacturing. So that 10% scrap rate on a good day coupled with really understanding client expectations is critical. That’s something that we need to be talking about more. Because there’s no sense in having a 25% scrap rate if the client will accept some surface character marks (for example).”

As the industry continues to evolve and mature, having a digital mindset is critical to our success, especially when it comes to quality. DI Labs is in a constant state of transition to new levels of performance, capabilities and standards of quality. As Hannah said in the wrap-up, change is inevitable especially if you want to be better. And we always do.


01:02 Structure of quality

01:27 Digital mindset and quality – oil and water

03:15 Quality is a tradeoff

04:06 Definitions of quality

05:50 Culture supports quality

07:51 Our ISO9001 onboarding process

11:53 Understanding client expectations

15:45 How quality drives scrap rates

18:59 Scrap from 10-25%

19:11 Current improvements