Quality Control in 3D Printing Through ISO and LEAN

As 3D Printing moves toward more widespread application in mainstream industrial markets, it’s interesting to note the shift from the desktop hacker providing parts at Maker Faires to contract service companies utilizing processes and procedures common in traditional manufacturing.

LEAN manufacturing systems, for example, are a hallmark of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ programs.  Companies such as Shapeways, perhaps the largest 3D Printing service bureau in the world, we hear incorporates LEAN practices onto their factory floor in order to improve quality and efficiency which in turn creates a better customer experience.

ISO certification is another program that customers rely upon to ensure they are contracting with a company that can deliver quality parts.  While quality at the prototype level is important, once a part moves to production consistent parts are essential to good products.  ISO Certification actually audits that quality processes are in place but does not certify each part.  The thinking is that if procedures are followed by employees, then parts will be consistent and accurate.


QuickParts, based in Atlanta, GA is ISO 9000 certified and Potomac Photonics in Baltimore, MD recently completed renewal of their ISO certifications which were first earned in 2006.  “ISO is not an arbitrary designation, but a living, breathing process implemented everyday by Potomac employees in our work for customers,” explains President and CEO Mike Adelstein.  In addition to the ubiquitous ISO 9001 certification, Potomac has also achieved ISO 13485 which is designed especially for quality control programs in the medical device industry.

It will be interesting to see how many of the 3D Printing startups that are the basis of the new industrial manufacturing model will be able in the long term to sustain quality control.  While selling a customized one-off product to a consumer can fit into this new paradigm, it’s hard to imagine meeting the demands of tough industrial customers without some thought given to quality.