Metal 3D printing is fast becoming one of the most popular industrial manufacturing processes. It can produce shapes and features that are impossible to manufacture with traditional metal fabrication methods. These include lattices, organic topologies and complex internal coring such as cooling channels. Metal laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) is a 3D printing process where powdered metal is selectively melted by a laser, on a layer-by-layer basis, until a part is formed. The process makes solid metal parts with a matte surface finish in alloys like aluminum, steel, stainless steel, Inconel (nickel-alloy), titanium and more. It’s better known by names like direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser melting (SLM), or direct metal laser melting (DMLM) but the processes are in most ways identical. For simplicity, DMLS will be used in this article.
DMLS has added significant value in the aerospace industry, with demonstrated successes like GE’s GE9X engine used on the 777X housing hundreds of metal 3D printed features. The 3D printed parts offer better performance, less weight and fewer assembly parts than their predecessors. The fuel cost savings alone justify the increased infrastructure, R&D and quality assurance required for GE Additive to champion the metal 3D printing-based project.
All in all, if you’re a supply chain manager not already harnessing the benefits of AM, then it’s worth taking a closer look at what the technology can do for you. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
In a previous column, I discussed the basic advantages and challenges of additive manufacturing (AM, a.k.a. 3D printing) when it comes to the supply chain. We centered around the main characteristics of AM technology, namely production one layer at a time, on demand, and with a minimum batch size of just one. One of the main game changers that AM enables is virtual inventory and this piece will delve a bit deeper into this aspect as well as its implications in today’s complex and volatile geopolitical climate.
In traditional supply chains the parts are kept physically in inventory after they have been manufactured and passed QA. The costs and issues surrounding storing large amounts of physical inventory are very familiar to supply chain managers. Conversely, with virtual inventory, items are kept digitally until they are ordered. When an order arrives, the item is retrieved from the virtual inventory and additively manufactured. Then, the resulting (physical) item can join the existing logistics set up and be delivered to its final destination, as with the physical inventory case. Holding your inventory in digital files rather than physical items and producing them on demand, close to the demand, using AM, has been called Distributed Additive Manufacturing (DAM) and it presents many benefits.
3D printing isn’t a vision of the future; it’s here now. However, with the growth of technologies such as artificial intelligence also competing to win the business of organisations across the globe, how do you make the business case for 3D printing?
The long-term capabilities of 3D printing, especially local print-on-demand solutions, have the potential to transform the supply chain. However, any company with additive manufacture can begin to explore the 3D printing journey to achieve incremental gains today.
Additive manufacturing: Working with existing methods
3D printing isn’t a replacement for traditional manufacturing processes, it’s a technology designed to complement and work alongside existing manufacturing methods too. As a case in point, print on demand spare parts can revolutionise uptime, especially in remote areas, enabling companies to cut down their transport and warehouse costs, reduce production downtime and optimise processes.
Recently, many new 3D software startup companies entered the market offering various solutions mainly for industrial users. It goes from decision-support solutions for better utilization of 3D printing, generative design/topology optimization, to workflow management and parts IP protection. Each of them seems to be focused on specific challenges heavy users face, challenges that will only increase in the foreseeable future as 3D printing moves from prototyping to manufacturing.
Why is there a need for such 3D software solutions and what are the gaps they are trying to fill? And where does it position the large software conglomerates that have been the main players in the market for many years? Let’s understand the bigger picture first.
Online platforms are changing 3D printing just as 3D printing is changing manufacturing. Here are the latest facts and figures.
Digital manufacturing technologies, with 3D printing as the forerunner, are changing the way products are designed and manufactured. New examples of industrial applications of 3D printing are revealed almost every week. These come mainly from the big names in the automotive, aerospace, and medical sectors.
However, a quieter revolution is happening online. Manufacturing platforms are changing the way engineers work by giving them access to the latest technologies and making outsourcing easier and faster.
With 3D printing moving towards broader adoption many companies are now entering our market. One of these is Deloitte. The professional services firm that does everything from accounting to tax and M&A also wants to guide firms into the 3D printing world. We interviewed Vinod Devan, Product Strategy and Operations Lead at Deloitte Consulting to see what the firm’s plans are in 3D printing and how it hopes to help customers.
Why is Deloitte entering the 3D printing market?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a critical component of the Industry 4.0 digital transformation.AM technology is finally at the point where companies are starting to realize significant, tangible, new value for themselves and their customers. Deloitte is making significant investments in 3D printing knowledge and capabilities so that we can advise and join with our clients as they revolutionize supply chains, product portfolios, and business models.
With a focus on digitization and Industry 4.0, 3D Printing Industry sought to learn more on how such technologies work with additive manufacturing, by attending the IN(3D)USTRY talk “Printing Farms & Smart Factories.”
The following includes some of the insights made by Pedro Mier, Adviser and Member of the Board of Directors at Premo Group, Ignacio Artola Guardiola, Managing Director at Accenture, Ramón Paricio Hernández, Production Manager at SEAT, and Ramón Pastor, Vice President and General Manager of HP’s Large Format Printing.
With the rise of additive manufacturing (AM), a wide range of users now have 3D printersat a keystroke, and can produce physical objects without the use of traditional manufacturing tool and die fixtures or injection molding.
Inexpensive parts for everyday goods, for example, are now being produced with affordable 3D printers and then sold to consumers by individuals or small businesses.
Jabil is creating a digital network to manufacture 3D printed parts
Over the years, Jabil, the manufacturing solutions provider and one of HP’s partners in the production of 3D printers, has been recognized as a supply chain innovator by the likes of Gartner. Today, it is in the process of creating what Jabil and John Dulchinos, the vice president of digital manufacturing, calls a digital supply chain.
As Dulchinos explains, that is one in which networks of digital printers are distributed to locations around the world, such as Singapore, where Jabil manufacturers HP’s 3D printers, while the design and process work is centralized in Silicon Valley. “We’re building production files in San Jose, and sending them to Singapore where we’re manufacturing them on 3D printers and then assembling the final product,” Dulchinos says.
Lockheed Martin, a Maryland-based aerospace and defense company, has emphasized its 5Ps Additive Manufacturing Model to demonstrate the potential of additive manufacturing in the lifecycle of a typical U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) program.
“We look to insert the right level of additive capabilities at each of our factories to support production and keep our innovation centers focused on development,” said Carolyn Preisendanz, Director of Advanced Manufacturing Technology at Lockheed Martin RMS in an article by Robert Ghobrial, Technical Fellow and AM Technology Strategist Lockheed Martin, Training and Logistics Solutions (TLS) division.