CAQ-Software at EOS: Quality for Industrial 3D Printing
Nothing is impossible. Today’s methods of laser sintering technology allow the production of objects whose shapes and properties seem to be limited only by one’ s own imagination. In this generative manufacturing process, also known as "3D printing", spatial structures are melted with a laser from a powdery starting material. This process results in components that are particularly sought after by the automotive, medical technology, and aerospace sectors – not least because of their unique combination of lightweight construction and material strength.
EOS GmbH Electro Optical Systems is a global technology and quality leader for high-end solutions in the field of industrial 3D printing of metals and plastics. As a high-tech provider in 3D printing, EOS relies on the solutions of a high-tech provider of QM software solutions: CAQ.Net® by CAQ AG Factory Systems in Rheinböllen.
Modular Expansion Layer by Layer
Founded in 1989 in the Bavarian town of Krailling near Munich, EOS is a technology pioneer and has been certified according to ISO 9001 since 1998. This understanding of quality also shows itself in the company’s consistent use of integrated software solutions in the areas of quality assurance and quality management. Just as individual layers are produced in the industrial 3D printing process to form the final structure of a product, the CAQ system (Computer Aided Quality Assurance) at EOS has been expanded module by module over the years to become a true quality bedrock. Starting with the PMM.Net module for gauge management that was introduced in 1999, the CAQ system was successively expanded by Jürgen Pfeiffer, Team Manager Quality Assurance at EOS. Whether inspection planning and quality inspection, complaint management and supplier evaluation, or audit management: virtually no quality-related aspect in the company is not controlled via the appropriate module. This is also supported by the fact that change management, initial sample inspection, and visualization of KPIs are also handled by CAQ AG solutions.
This strong focus on quality at EOS is necessary not least because of the highly demanding and highly regulated industries that are served. A wide variety of standards and regulations demand that all aspects of quality in the production process are under control right from the beginning on. The reasons for this are obvious, as the current perception that industrial 3D printing is only used for rapid prototyping has little in common with today’s applications and future technological development: there is a clear trend towards ready-to-use serial products and small series production.
One example of this is the injection head of the future Ariane 6 rocket engine. Thanks to the 3D printing process used to manufacture the upper-stage engine, it now has only one part instead of 248 – with the same range of functions and maximum time savings during production. If produced with conventional methods, more than 8,000 transverse holes would need to be drilled into copper sleeves near the injection elements. These would then have to be screwed precisely to the 122 injection elements.
Locking shafts for the doors of the A350 passenger aircraft, production components for MTU’s Airbus engines, and the production of orthoses, implants, or medical instruments in the field of medical technology regulated by ISO 13485 are just a few of the many other applications for 3D printing technology.
Integrated into the System Landscape
The integration of the ERP system and CAQ software at EOS is entirely in line with the idea of Industry 4.0 and the company-wide increase in efficiency and data transparency. The CAQ system is directly connected to the SAP S4/HANA ERP system, which ensures networking and data exchange between both systems. The advantages of such a connection are obvious, as it eliminates the need for double data maintenance as well as potential sources of error that could result from ineffective interfaces or manual data transfers. Whether order number, lot size, article number, external order number, customer number, or inspection station: all inspection-related data is automatically exchanged bidirectionally between SAP and CAQ.
The corresponding hardware connection is also constantly progressing at EOS. Using the APE.Net module for automatic import of measurement data, the test data acquired by measuring machines such as the Zwick Z050 tensile testing machine (Zwick Expert Software) or the ACCURA 3D coordinate measuring system (CALYPSO Software) will in future be automatically transferred to the CAQ software where it can be processed immediately.
Quality Right from the Start
Since the reliability of information is decided right when it is collected, properly functioning inspection equipment is indispensable for quality monitoring at EOS. The PMM.Net gauge management module is used to ensure that the gauges used are always correctly calibrated and in perfect working order. This module organizes the procurement, use, and monitoring of all test equipment. In concrete terms, EOS manages more than 8,000 items of inspection, measuring, and test equipment globally. This forms an essential basis for quality assurance along the supply chain and at all locations in the field.
Inspection Planning and Inspection Order Processing
The complete polymer testing process, all system and incoming goods inspections, as well as the inspection of all in-house produced AM plastic parts at EOS is performed via the Compact.Net module for inspection planning and quality inspection. This module also contains the complete checklist that is used to inspect every EOS machine prior to its delivery. In addition to functions for batch tracking and evaluation, the so-called family inspection plans also support the entire inspection planning and processing of inspection orders. Different products often have a lot of similarities and characteristics often only differ with regard to nominal values or with regard to the precise composition of different components. In order to keep the inspection planning process as simple yet flexible as possible, Compact.Net includes family inspection plans, module-characteristics, characteristic-templates, and automated inspection schemes which can be used to precisely depict the individual processes and production methods at EOS.
Thanks to the coupling with the EMP.Net module for initial sample inspections, the quality of products is ensured right from the start. This module optimally supports the processes of planning, performing, documenting, and managing initial sample inspections and facilitates the creation of standard-compliant initial sample inspection reports (ISIR).
Consistent Complaints Workflow
Coupling is also the right keyword when it comes to complaints processing at EOS, because thanks to the automatic generation of complaints in the Compact.Net module, there is a direct flow of information between inspection planning / inspection order processing and complaints management. EOS uses the REM.Net module for complaints management to process deviations both on the technical side in serial production as well as in its project business. It is also used by the order processing and purchasing teams in order to deal with commercial or logistical deviations. The module provides support in shape of 8D reports, Ishikawa diagrams, the 5-Why method, and many other functions during and after the processing of complaints. The software accompanies EOS all the way from the receipt of a complaint via its initial processing to customer-response, analysis, cost-control, and escalation management.
Central Quality Control
In QDrive.Net, the CAQ.Net® module for central quality control, all data from the various CAQ modules used at EOS flows together. QDrive.Net displays all occurrences of selected data in the modules and highlights the individual correlations in one powerful user interface. It thereby allows users to not only view the data, but to directly access programs and process relevant information at the push of a button. It allows users to select individual persons, customers, suppliers, articles, machines, or processes and receive exact, real-time feedback regarding the data of the selected entity. This enables the QM department at EOS to enjoy the advantages of fully linked information transparency.
With every system implementation, the question of its entrepreneurial benefit naturally arises. This is no different with a CAQ system. In addition to the creation of a consistently networked quality assurance system, the entrepreneurial benefit at EOS is above all reflected in a significant increase in efficiency throughout a wide variety of corporate areas. By using a uniform database solution such as CAQ.Net®, EOS was able to say goodbye to the existing isolated MS Office or file server solutions and, for example, create company-wide uniform templates. Although the added value of this uniform database may not be apparent at first glance, EOS was quick to realise that the increasing degree to which the software was implemented could in some cases lead to significant efficiency gains. For example, consistently using CAQ’s own action management system allowed overall communication to be much more structured and faster than it had been with conventional means of e-mail traffic.
A Focus on People
Additive manufacturing is rightly regarded as one of the drivers of the digitalized manufacturing of the future – not least because the increasing desire for individualized products and a consistently networked production are aspects that appear to be almost tailor-made for this technology. Here too, parallels can be drawn regarding the CAQ system at EOS, because, so to speak, the organically grown and successively implemented CAQ system provides EOS with a tailor-made IT solution instead of off-the-shelf data management. With so much high-tech in place throughout the company, there is, however, a rock-solid constant without which such joint project successes would not be possible: the people at the centre. What counts above all is the regular expert exchange between Mr Pfeiffer at EOS and CAQ AG’s customer service department. The discussions between the professionals of both companies always take place at the highest level and ensured that the CAQ project could be implemented with clear objectives and milestones right from the start. Even in times of industry 4.0 and digitalized production, expert, open, and friendly interaction with one another remains the only true key to success.