Hybrid AM Supply Chains: The future of manufacturing?

A map of proposed metal AM hubs based on demand patterns across the United States.

The proportion of the manufacturing market that can be addressed by 3D printing technology is growing by the day. Improvements in underlying additive processes have brought economic feasibility to applications across the entire spectrum of 3D-printable materials, but the trend has been most pronounced in metals. Up to now, metal AM’s strong ability to occupy an important place in the value chain for OEMs of all sizes hasn’t matched up with its relatively low levels of adoption. The issue can be summarized thus: the massive business advantages that incorporating AM might unlock remain off limits for most companies because the costs associated with bringing the technology in-house remains prohibitive.

Inspired by this challenge, a new research effort published earlier this summer in Additive Manufacturingtook a close look at a practical way to make the value of metal AM accessible to more companies. The paper, titled “Hybrid manufacturing—integrating traditional manufacturers with additive manufacturing (AM) supply chain,” imagines what it would look like to develop a system in which additive manufacturing “hubs” throughout the country were brought online by independent providers. These hubs would then be accessible as vendors for those OEMs that might have niche uses for metal 3D printing, but are unable to make the technology investment on their own. The study paints a tantalizing picture of how a hybridized supply chain might propel the manufacturing sector forward by democratizing access to this revolutionary technology.

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