Engineering Futures: How 3D printing at scale can overcome modern supply chain challenges

It is difficult to overstate the challenges faced by global supply chains in the last year-and-a-half. The Covid-19 pandemic, new post-Brexit trade rules and the Suez Canal blockage all played a part in delaying or restricting deliveries, creating bottlenecks and shortages of parts.

The Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit-related trade delays and the Suez Canal blockage have all disrupted global supply chains in the last year – but 3D printing can help, says Yann Rageul (Credit: Shutterstock)

Thankfully, says Yann Rageul, the challenges have also encouraged companies to consider new ways of working – and 3D printing could be an ideal candidate for overcoming further disruption.

We spoke to the Stratasys head of manufacturing in the EMEA and APAC regions ahead of his 19 July session on the topic, at our free Engineering Futures webinar series.  

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How can consumer goods brands transform their additive manufacturing operations?

While additive manufacturing has long been a part of consumer product development, it has massive potential for innovation in product manufacturing. 

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However, it’s one thing to talk about its potential. It’s quite another to establish efficient, scalable AM operations that bring value both for customers and the company’s bottom line.

This article will dive into the challenges to efficient AM workflow and highlight the solutions to help set AM operations up for success. 

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3D printing offers new sustainable supply chain paradigm

3D printing establishes a new era for sustainable manufacturing.

These days, there are several companies that put sustainability in the driver’s seat. If they intend to realize a net zero carbon, fully regenerative economy while reducing overall environmental footprint, sustainability must underscore everything.

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Any company aiming to remain competitive and viable beyond this decade is redefining its business priorities around accelerated, expansive change that is also better for the planet. More and more leaders are asking themselves whether the world can be transformed by rethinking their approach to design and manufacturing. However, true resiliency requires looking beyond a company’s own operations to its entire ecosystem.

When HP surveyed global digital manufacturing and 3D printing decision makers in late 2020, an overwhelming majority (89%) said they were changing their business models, and at least nine out of 10 were investigating new and more sustainable supply chain models. One reason is because supply chains are a conduit to widespread sustainable innovation, but only where there’s a willingness to redefine manufacturing paradigms.  

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GE Aviation moves production of four land/marine turbine parts from casting to metal additive manufacturing

GE Aviation has projected cost savings of 35% after switching the production of four land/marine turbine bleed air parts from casting to metal 3D printing.

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The aerospace company worked with GE Additive to additively manufacture the four bleed air components, with the cost savings expected to be enough to retire the old casting moulds forever. Harnessing 3D printing, GE Aviation also saw significant time reductions through the conversion process, getting to a final prototype inside ten months, where as it has previously taken between 12 and 18 months when developing turbine parts.

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What if you could condense all your pills into one? With 3D printing, you can

Researchers debut a new technique that proves pills can be designed for individual patients.

The objects are almost beautiful. The surfaces appear faceted and woven, catching the light like ornate jewelry. But they are not jewelry. They are pills, and possibly the most high-tech pills ever designed, in fact. These tablets are artisanal, tuned for just one person, to release a small medicine cabinet of different drugs at the right time.

Developed by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), these pills are produced by a breakthrough in 3D printing. Today, that printing is done in a lab. Tomorrow, scientists suggest, the work might be done by a pharmacist, hospital, or almost any entity other than separate pharmaceutical companies, each of which currently churns out millions of doses of the same drugs in one-size-fits-all pill formats.

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Why the semiconductor industry must embrace 3D printing

There is a tremendous opportunity for additive manufacturing to help overcome the semiconductor shortage, and once again, strengthen supply chains.

Global supply chains have felt the impact of the pandemic for quite some time and continue to face challenges navigating the disruption of production lines even as more regions of the world and business centers gradually re-open and bring more personnel back on-site. The biggest challenge that will remain for the foreseeable future is the shortage of semiconductors, and the signs have been there for months.

Last December, Volkswagen said that semiconductor bottlenecks meant it would produce 100,000 fewer cars in the first quarter of 2021, as its parts makers were unable to secure supplies. Nissan, Renault, Daimler and General Motors are also struggling with the shortage, which may lead to production being reduced by as much as 20% per week.

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Shapeways’ Digital Manufacturing boosts supply chain resiliency

Shapeways, a leader in powering digital manufacturing, continues to disrupt the traditional manufacturing market through end-to-end digitization and automated workflows that lower manufacturing barriers, alleviate critical supply chain bottlenecks and speed delivery of quality products worldwide. The company’s purpose-built software, proven production capabilities and global network of certified printer, materials and manufacturing partners are transforming manufacturing while boosting supply chain resiliency.

Shapeways’ Digital Manufacturing Boosts Supply Chain Resiliency

“Global supply chains continue to face massive disruptions caused by unforeseen events—from a traffic jam at the Suez Canal to a year-long pandemic that upended sourcing, procurement and production,” said Miko Levy, chief revenue officer of Shapeways. “Digital manufacturing is the key to meeting escalating demands for supply chain resilience with unprecedented agility and flexibility.”

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Ford, HP turn 3D printing waste into parts

Ford and HP are looking to make 3D printing technology more sustainable. The giants of industry are teaming up to reuse spent 3D printing parts and powders for vehicle parts, minimizing waste in the process.

a fuel-line clip for the Ford F-250 made in collaboration with HP using 3D printing waste

Ford and HP are testing the process by making injection-molded fuel-line clips for the Ford F-250 Super Duty. According to Ford, the recycled parts are lighter, less expensive, and more resistant that conventional fuel-line clips. Because the project has panned out successfully so far, Ford is looking to bring its innovation to as many as 10 new vehicles.

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3D printing can play pivotal role in fueling EV growth

The push toward going all-in on EVs creates a natural pivot point to leverage industrial 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

In the past year, we’ve seen a drastic shift across the automotive industry and among consumers with a growing appetite for electric vehicles.

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General Motors, Ford and other OEMs have made recent announcements signaling they’re pursuing EVs more heavily. President Biden signed an executive order requiring the replacement of the entire fleet of federal vehicles, about 645,000 cars, trucks, and vans, with U.S.-made electrics.

This push toward going all-in on EVs creates a natural pivot point to leverage industrial 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM). Here’s why:

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Dynamic platform cuts 3D printing waste by 35%

A dynamically controlled surface with moving metal platforms can cut material usage in 3D printing by reducing the need for “wasteful” printed supports, its developers have said.

The dynamically controlled surfaces (a) reduce the need for printed supports (b) to cut waste material (Credit: Yong Chen)

Printing times could also be shortened thanks to the new technique, said the researchers from the University of Southern California (USC).

As conventional 3D printers create custom objects layer-by-layer, they often need to print supports to balance the product. These supports are manually removed after printing, which requires finishing by hand and can result in shape inaccuracies or surface roughness. The materials the supports are made from often cannot be reused, so they are discarded and contribute to the growing problem of 3D-printed waste material.

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