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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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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3D printing industry responds to the opportunity of new Right to Repair EU laws

Companies that sell consumer electronic goods in the European Union (EU) will be obliged to ensure they can be repaired for up to a decade, as a result of new Right to Repair legislation passed by the European Parliament.

Dishwasher Float printed in MJF / PA12. Photo via Spare Parts 3D.

3D Printing Industry asked EOS, Spare Parts 3D, DiManEx, Ricoh 3D and Link3D for their thoughts on how 3D printed spare parts could help consumer appliance manufacturers adhere to the legislation, while avoiding large physical stocks of replacement parts and subsequent incurring costs.

From summer 2021, the new EU Ecodesign and Energy Labelling regulation will give consumers the ‘right to repair’ on the goods they buy, meaning manufacturers will be legally required to make spare parts for products available to consumers for up to 10 years. The goods in question include refrigerators, dishwashers, hairdryers, lights, TVs, and so on, although appliances such as phones and laptops are not covered by the new laws.

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3D Printing & Supply Chain Transformation in 2021

With new capacities, faster speeds, digitalized inventory, and innovative materials, additive manufacturing is moving inventory closer to the customer and forever changing global supply chains.

Image of 3D Printing & Supply Chain Transformation: What We Learned in 2020

A new year brings great promise for inspiration and change. We need both of these ideas to move forward in 2021. Our 3D printing community came to the rescue during 2020 to keep our healthcare workers safe dealing with parts of a broken supply chain. The question now becomes: How do we take these lessons and move forward? Let’s talk about:

  • What we learned about 3D printing’s role in the supply chain in 2020
  • How 3D printing will evolve in 2021
  • The impact of 3D printing on supply chains in 2021 and beyond

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Distributed Production: What industries can learn from 3D printing’s role in the fight against COVID-19

“AM technology increases the flexibility of manufacturing and production processes, reducing both our dependence on global supply chains and logistics expenses.”

The COVID-19 virus has affected the world in an unprecedented way. The pandemic has shown us just how deeply a crisis can disrupt societies and economies that are now so interconnected on a global level. This has been especially true in the case of supply chains and production. But the situation is also creating some valuable learnings, an important one being that by embracing alternative technologies to innovate, and with industry collaboration, we can make our supply chains more reliable, cost-effective and efficient – not just now but for the longer-term.

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In previous decades, medical technology as well as countless other industries, have shifted the production of components or entire products to locations with lower labour costs, far away from their target market. Unfortunately, there are cases, including the current pandemic, where the vulnerability of these fully optimised supply chains have been laid bare – leading to supply bottlenecks, weakened domestic markets and lessened autonomy.

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The Rise of 3D Printing in the COVID-19 pandemic

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3D printing refers to a computer-controlled construction system, in which material is deposited and layered in an organized manner to form a physical object based on a computationally designed plan. The ease of distribution of digital files that then allow one to fabricate an object locally could help to ease the burden faced by healthcare providers in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Has the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of 3D printing?

As a person in the additive manufacturing media, well-meaning texts from friends and family members containing 3D printing news stories are always a good indication of the technology’s footing in the mainstream conversation. So, as the coronavirus pandemic hit and 3D printers were poised as the solution to pressing supply chain challenges for crucial items on the frontline, you can imagine, my inbox was pretty full. 

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Hospitals brought 3D printers in-house to support production of protective medical equipment, universities loaned their additive capabilities to print parts for local healthcare providers, and 3D printing equipment manufacturers became service providers overnight.

How that awareness and momentum might extend to the coming months and indeed years, particularly as this health crisis remains, is up for debate, and yesterday a trio of panellists across various industry segments came together to discuss what that could look like.

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Technology innovations transforming the supply chain

Every sector is in the midst of a digital transformation journey adopting the latest technologies worldwide.

Sectors such as supply chain, manufacturing, logistics and transportation are currently facing an extreme shift in the adoption of new technologies. Not only has the current pandemic been a catalyst in adoption, technology is currently in the midst of its biggest transformation yet. New technology innovations have enabled us to automate processes, manage the supply chain and track data using blockchain. 

3D Printing

3D printing has been around for over 20 years but has only recently been adopted by large-scale markets. This technology allows for companies to create specific devices or products in-house using specialised materials while minimising cost. This means independence for the supply chain and manufacturing industries as well as reducing delivery times and eliminating the need to store a large number of products in a warehouse. 

3D printing is a globally used language meaning that digital files can be sent from anywhere and then printed locally, allowing for on-demand files to be printed immediately reducing inventory build-up and costs. This streamlined approach only brings positives to the manufacturing and supply chain sectors, and boasts huge benefits such as dealing with less risk, having more control and adding agility to their product lifecycle.

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3D printing can be a real source for optimism

A Stanford computer scientist, Roy Amara, noted in the 1960s that “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. When it comes to 3D printing, it could certainly be argued that he was right.

3D Printing a face

A promise that could be fulfilled

3D printing, sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, is a technology that is evolving fast and has not yet reached its full potential when it comes to decentralising production. It could very well offer the answer to the addiction the world has to the supply chain – simply by removing it from the equation. Now, 3D printing is only used for toy models and prototyping and it has not reached far beyond that.

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GM is pushing 3D printing from the lab to the factory

The upcoming Additive Industrialization Center will develop know-how for direct production of 3D-printed parts.

3D printing has been crucial to the launch of General Motors’ halo Corvette sport sports car and was crucial in the company’s ability to pivot to producing medical equipment in response to the COVID-19 virus, but the company has even bigger plans for the technology coming later this year.

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GM printed 17,000 face shields with its additive manufacturing equipment and printed the tooling for the injection molds that have now created 250,000 more shields. Before that, the team building the first mid-engine Corvette prototype relied on 75 percent printed parts to assemble the car for testing. This faster process sped the car’s development and pointed the way for future new car development projects.

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