Oil company X had problems this spring. It was time for field maintenance, but company X couldn’t go ahead with it because it needed spare parts that weren’t coming anytime soon. Coronavirus-prompted lockdowns were breaking down international supply chains. Refinery Y had the same problem. It was maintenance time, and maintenance could not begin because of that same disruption to the supply chain. Refinery Y had to delay its maintenance, risking outages.
The problems of X and Y are very real and also dangerous. They also reveal one of the less pleasant aspects of the globalized economy: an overdependence on long international supply chains. But there is an alternative to these long supply chains: additive manufacturing or 3D printing.
3D printing is coming to the aid of health workers as well as the masses in providing essential items like masks and face shields.
Since its inception in the Eighties, 3D printing has found applicability in many industries. The latest is essential products. At a time when Covid-19 has brought the world to its knees, with many people struggling for essential items like masks, face shields, etc (which are in short supply), 3D printing has come to the rescue, helping create such products to aid people.
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly-sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. The advantage of 3D printing is that it enables one to produce complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods. It has been used in a diverse range of industries, including consumer products, dentistry, prosthetics, among others.
Since the beginning of this year, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the fragility of global supply chains that provide life-saving equipment including ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical facilities around the world.
3D printing has long emphasized its power to decentralize global manufacturing by manufacturing locally, but the material with which it operates is still beholden to the global supply chain.
The pro-decentralization argument in favor of additive manufacturing systems generally goes something like this: global supply chains require huge amounts of transportation. Since additive manufacturing systems 3D print products on site without expensive tooling from a 3D design file, the cost of shipping and production is reduced. CAD files are easy to reverse engineer and easy to redesign, greatly reducing time-to-market as well. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, this argument was not airtight by any means. The cost of producing certain non-essential and essential goods (including medical supplies) was still cheaper by traditional methods like injection molding and transcontinental shipping.
It’s no doubt that 3D printing and additive manufacturing are some of the most exciting technologies in the past decade. But as rife with much as the hobbyist and household applications are already, the most significant potential of additive manufacturing lies behind the outstanding scenes in each supply chain.
Experts assert that rapid prototyping can potentially remake the entire manufacturing and product handling process. This is because the approach can help bring about professionally-designed products quicker than ever. Keep in mind that rapid prototyping is more than just 3D printing. The concept can be helpful even when working with different materials to suit manufacturers and eventually transform the work environment for your employees.
With “disruption” becoming an increasing feature of supply chains, whose decision-makers have to find new ways to mitigate risks from it, supply chain innovation is now a key requirement for effective, efficient and economic success. The use of optimization tools has long been a feature of the area of inventory management, and now new technologies are advancing those further. MRO spare parts management often balances the need to hold stock on shelves with the locking-in of working capital. However, digital manufacturing, such as the use of 3D printing, is now proving to change that paradigm, allowing companies to ensure service levels without the financial constraints of the past. This article looks at how 3D printing helps with MRO spare parts management, and describes the first steps to adopt it.
John Dogru, CEO of 3DPrinterOS, spoke to MPN’s editor Laura Hughes about the pivotal role of 3D printing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your organisation?
We have developed the world’s first operating system for 3D printing – 3DPrinterOS. Just like Android or Microsoft Dos solved the platform operating systems problems of the early PC and phone days, we have one platform that makes it easy to run, manage, 3D print, and run 3D printing at scale – regardless of who the manufacturer of the 3D printer is.
3D printing has many disparate systems, which we unite under one platform. Each 3D printer usually comes with its own software, and integrating all these brands onto one network is currently a nightmare for customers. This is why we developed an operating system that allows our customers to easily operate all their 3D printers and allows designers to easily print through a web browser. 3DPrinterOS’s customers run some of the largest 3D print farms in the world, allowing them to produce parts at low cost and at scale. We believe we’ve made it so easy, an eight year old could use it.
How are you helping with the Covid-19 pandemic?
We gave access to our network of over 35,000+ printers, and allowed our customers to share their 3D printers with anyone in the world to produce local face shields and masks needed in hospitals and local communities.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of our publisher, the industry sourcing company DirectIndustry, we are celebrating 20 years of industrial innovations by giving the floor to the players that brought these innovations to life. In this interview, we focus on 3D printing.Eric Bredin, VP Marketing, Stratasys, EMEA, gives his insights into 20 years of innovations in additive manufacturing and 3D printing technology.
DirectIndustry magazine: 30 years ago, you went into an industrial sector, 3D printing, that was unoccupied: why and how?
Erin Bredin: Thirty years ago, Stratasys saw the potential 3D printing could bring to the manufacturing world and has since developed its Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology to fit production needs of various industries. FDM offered manufacturers a tool that was lacking until then – the ability to produce small series or customized parts in-house quickly and cost-effectively. Today, many manufacturers see 3D printing – or additive manufacturing – as a staple part of the industrial production floor, replacing certain conventional manufacturing technologies or offering a complementary tool for production.
In the span of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended life around the world, and its impact grows more severe with each passing day. The swiftness and pervasiveness of the disruption is unparalleled in modern history, as entire economies grind to a halt in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Societies have been forced to quickly adapt to the disruption, in many cases turning to technologies that have long been hailed for disruptive potential of their own.
In the supply chain, additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, is finally having its moment.
Across industries, supply chains have been hit hard as factories shut down or limit production. However, none has been strained more than the medical supply chain, as demand soars for protective equipment like masks and gloves, as well as for critical life-saving equipment such as ventilators. Hospitals will likely soon be overwhelmed, with capacity and supplies pushed to their limits. In the face of this unprecedented challenge, additive manufacturing has stepped in to fill the gap.
The novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated the vulnerability of conventional global supply chains. Over the past decade, natural disasters, including the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the Thailand floods in 2011, the category five hurricane Maria in 2017, and the category four hurricane Harvey in 2017, resulted in major disruptions to company supply chains. Although the global supply chain and the majority of companies recovered from these natural calamities, the overemphasis of firms on cost-cutting measures by concentrating on production overseas through manufacturing clusters has caused many of the current problems, such as vast shortcomings in the supply of much-needed medical and non-medical products required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there is unavailability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers, scarcity of ventilators for patients, inadequacy of sanitiser liquid, and shortage of test kits for the public.
Bans issued by countries on the export of PPEs and products critical to fighting the pandemic have caused the global supply chains to collapse. These instances illustrate the fragility of the global supply chains amid a large disruption.
SmarTech Analysis has published a new report on the state of metal 3D printing service bureaus dubbed “The Market for Metal Additive Manufacturing Services: 2020-2029.” The report illustrates the current picture of the metal additive manufacturing (AM) service market and projects the future revenue opportunities that will emerge by relying on a robust set of quantitative data. Though the report provides a comprehensive look at the industry, it is being framed as particularly valuable given the major disruptions that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the global supply chain.
Nearly all products are made in a centralized manner, with individual components made in one set of factories and shipped to others to be assembled. As nations have shut down their borders in order to limit the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, starting with China, the globalized economy was quickly disrupted. 94 percent Fortune 1000 companies were reported as seeing their supply chains impacted in response to the pandemic, just as it was reaching its peak impact in China.