3D printing lies at the bottom of service providers’ Industry 4.0 technology offerings; there are many challenges left unsolved if it’s going to surpass cool use case videos to be the production process of the future. Providers are showing signs of solving these challenges alongside their manufacturing partners, but manufacturing execs shouldn’t go in with guns blazing before guaranteeing rapid innovation in the short-term and concrete value in the long-term. Equally, they can’t be complacent and fail to have the capability and partner network ready-to-go when the technology booms—or they’ll be playing catchup, making expensive purchases, and signing one-sided contracts with vendors.
HFS’ Industry 4.0 Services Top 10 for 2019 asked leading providers to rate the maturity of their offerings across Industry 4.0’s core enabling technologies (see Exhibit 1). Unsurprisingly, predictive analytics and AI applications, big data, and IoT are the most mature segments. IoT provides real-time data flow, on top of which data analysis can derive insight and with that, value. While aspects of robotics and small-batch manufacturing are still emerging, they’ve been around for decades and are moving along the maturity scale; we cannot say the same of 3D printing.
A report from research company GlobalData, ”3D Printing in Oil & Gas,” explores how 3D printing is emerging as a key technology helping to drive industrial productivity in the oil and gas sector.
“The oil and gas industry has shown slow but steady adoption of 3D printing in recent years,” said Ravindra Puranik, oil and gas analyst at GlobalData. “Initially, this technology was largely limited to polymer-based products. However, recent advancements in metal-based 3D printing are making this technology more relevant to the oil and gas industry.”
The International Space Station has continuously been home to astronauts for more than nineteen years. Astronauts conduct scientific research using dozens of special facilities aboard the space station, which also provides them with a place to eat, sleep, relax and exercise. To make all of this possible requires sending more than 7,000 pounds of spare parts to the station annually. Another 29,000 pounds of spaceflight hardware spares are stored aboard the station and another 39,000 on the ground, ready to fly if needed.
This logistics support system works well for a spacecraft that is orbiting 250 miles above Earth and readily accessible to cargo resupply missions. It is not practical for future missions to the Moon and Mars, however. Astronauts on these long voyages need to be able to make their own spare parts, tools and materials essentially on demand – both for routine needs and to adapt quickly to unforeseen ones. In-space manufacturing (ISM) using 3D printing technology could be an answer.
With the announcement that Adidas will be shutting down its much-hyped USA and Germany Speedfactories, highly automated production plants driven by robotics and 3D printing, and relocating them to Asia, the media has been quick to assign the whole endeavor as a failure.
The scale of the Speedfactory project was grandiose. The goal went beyond creating automated 3D printing factories that produced high-performance and customized shoes, to create a new manufacturing paradigm for the 21st century. One that reversed the tide of off-shoring, brought back high-wage jobs to aging economies, decoupled cost from complexity to allow new degrees of consumer customization, and greened the supply chain by relocating production from concentrated global pockets to distributed, responsive and local hubs. As the Economist wrote, “This factory is out to reinvent an industry.”
And the military wants you—to help it make spare parts for decades-old B-52 bombers and other planes.
GLENN HOUSE AND his colleagues spent more than four years making a new toilet for the B-1 Lancer. The challenge wasn’t fitting the john into the cockpit (it went behind the front left seat), but ensuring that every part could handle life aboard a plane that can pull 5 Gs, break the sound barrier, and spend hours in wildly fluctuating temperatures. The end result didn’t just have to work. It had to work without rattling, leaking, or revealing itself to enemy radar. Having it OK’d for use aboard the bomber was just as complex as making it. “Getting a part approved can take years,” says House, the cofounder and president of Walpole, Massachusetts-based 2Is.
Until last year, 2Is was in the military parts business, furnishing replacement bits for assorted defense equipment. (Pronounced “two eyes,” it sold off the parts business and now focuses on defense-related supply chain software.) Providing spare parts for the military is a peculiar niche of the economy. Things like aircraft and submarines spend decades in service, and the companies that made them or supplied their myriad parts often disappear long before their products retire. So when something needs a new knob, seat, or potty, the military often turns to companies that specialize in making them anew.
AdventHealth Nicholson Center, a Florida-based medical training facility, has launched its Prototype Lab to enable the development of medical devices using additive manufacturing technology.
As an innovative space for healthcare professionals, the Prototype Lab will provide CAD modeling and 3D printing to develop, test and refine inventions to improve clinical care. Jodi Fails, B.S., Biomedical Engineer, and Prototype Lab lead at AdventHealth Nicholson Center explained:
“Our expert team can help bring an idea from ‘napkin sketch’ to reality, and our 3D printing capabilities allow inventors to hold an actual version of their device in their hands for evaluation.”
Blockchain takes to the skies as aerospace companies begin to make use of blockchain and 3D printing to streamline their supply chains
Blockchain, like many other emerging technologies, is enthusiastically touted as a solution to many of the world’s problems. Perhaps because of its relation to cryptocurrency or the narrative prophecies that surround them both, blockchain draws both criticism and praise from a staggering array of sectors.
However, with the big blockchain push from Chinese President Xi Jinping along with many tech, finance and industry giants piloting blockchain implementation, the number of use cases grows with each passing day. While cryptocurrency more often draws ire from the mainstream financial world, it seems that for blockchain, the sky’s the limit — but not for long.
MERCHANT ships are massive — often spanning a few hundred feet — and have thousands of moving parts.
Given the progress made by cross-border trade and commerce post-globalization, and the recent rise of e-commerce, more than 50,000 ships undertake nearly half-a-million voyages every year.
To avoid catastrophes while at sea, merchant ships need to be serviced often. One of the major costs that merchant ship owners have to account for when it comes to maintenance is the inventory cost of spare parts given the number of spares that must be carried at any given time.
The other challenge to effective maintenance is that ships travel from one port to another during its voyage. If something needs to be repaired when it is not at its home, spares must be sent to the port where it is docked.
The Marine Products division of global maritime industry group Wilhelmsen has launched a program to supply 3D printed spare parts on demand to ships and other vessels. Part of an ongoing collaboration with advanced and additive manufacturing service bureau Ivaldi Group, the service is exclusively open to a group of six early-adopters.
Advantages promoted by the program include the elimination of physical inventory, streamlining complex distribution, and a reduction of associated costs. “The savings from reduced cost, time and environmental footprint provided by 3D printing, digital inventory and on-demand localized manufacturing of maritime spare parts is a tremendous opportunity for our valued subscribers to be ahead of their rivals,” comments Hakon Ellekjaer, Head of Venture, 3D Printing at Wilhelmsen, adding:
“WE BELIEVE ON-DEMAND MANUFACTURING TECHNOLOGIES ARE GOING TO COMPLETELY RESHAPE THE MARITIME SUPPLY CHAIN.”
Avi Reichental’s Jewish mother wanted him to be a rabbi. While he didn’t take that particular path, during a long career in tech – prayer has certainly come in handy.
Now the leader of XponentialWorks, a combination of venture fund, advisory firm and product developer, the 3D printing industry veteran has seen it all, from widespread doubt about technology, to frenzied investment, and back to more realistic expectations. But when Reichental started at 3D Systems, the company he led for 12 years, he asked for a benediction.
“I came from Sealed Air, we virtually printed cash,” Reichental, who is affable and chatty throughout our long interview, said. “The same could not be said for 3D Systems at the time. I had to kind of get down on my knees and beg many of our major suppliers to give me time, a new experience for me,” he tells me.