Is manufacturing perfection possible?

April 5, 2019

Is manufacturing perfection possible? Is perfection in any sense possible? Perfection, as a word, is thrown around a lot in all aspects of life but if you asked 100 different people what perfection meant to them, on any topic, you will never get consensus. The perfect meal. The perfect phone. The perfect job. Perfection is like Unobtainium, something we want, something we dream up, something we strive towards, but ultimately it is not truly achievable.

In the world of rapid manufacturing the goal is to set the bar high and get as close to it as possible (or go past it) for any manufacturing job. While still maintaining a balance between quality, speed, customer needs, and of course, budget. Tight tolerances, great surface finishing, quick time lines, these are the elements of any rapid prototype or low-volume manufacturing project that we need to get right. Exactly “how right”  depends on the project.

What would you call perfect? Everything in spec, on-time, and aesthetically pleasing, is that perfection? Or is above and beyond this perfection? It really boils down to what your expectations and needs are. Our approach is to be flexible to our customer needs and instead of trying to claim perfection in rapid manufacturing, we strive to create perfect manufacturing solutions and programs that match our customer needs. Here are a few examples:

A fully functional 3D printed end-use part for internal use – we do a lot of parts like this. Parts where the client needs an SLS 3D printed part because the nylon material or glass filled nylon material is a great match for their needs and the process is quick enough for their needs, plus the RAW part finish is fine (some require some smoothing) as no one will see the part. Now, are all these parts pretty enough for a trade show? No. But the end result of these strong RAW parts, at a great price, is perfection for some customers.

A first class prototype with impeccable finishing – we do a lot of parts like this as well. Everything from a new smartphone to dashboards inside a new concept car. It looks great. All the functions work. But maybe the buttons will not work past a few hundred presses. Not a perfect part with full production quality but perfect parts that are fit for purpose…end result, perfection for some customers.

Low-volume production run of 1000 parts – not always, but generally speaking, this type of volume means end-use parts that will be sold as final production parts. Here you need form, fit, functionality, aesthetics, the whole lot (injection molding, 3D printing, CNC machining). Deliver on all points, hit the price point and deadline, then I would say we are close to project perfection. For some customers the project balance that allows them to turn a profit is perfection.

A long time ago I was in photography school, making enlargement after enlargement, always tweaking it, trying to get the colour just a little bit better, trying to get the density absolutely perfect. I had made about 10 enlargements of the same photo. My professor said, “just stop already, it is more than good enough”. Looking back he was right. I was trying to achieve perfection, but a version set forth in my mind. I was not considering what others may think, what the market may think. Maybe more than good enough is perfection. What do you think?

Set the bar high and try to go past it. Work with the customer to understand their true needs and expectations. Formulate bespoke project solutions based on those needs and deliver quality parts on time. Hit all those notes and you are pretty close to rapid manufacturing perfection 🙂

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Gary Moran

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