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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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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Ingersoll and Bell 3D printed a 22 foot-long rotor blade mold in 75 hours

Manufacturing system provider Ingersoll Machine Tools has partnered with aviation company Bell to 3D print a 22 foot-long vacuum trim tool – a mold used for the production of helicopter rotor blades.

The vacuum trim tool in its as-printed form. Photo via Ingersoll.

The project, which resulted in major lead time savings, was completed using Ingersoll’s own large-format hybrid MasterPrint system, a gantry-based 3D printer with integrated 5-axis milling functionality. According to Ingersoll, the MasterPrint is the largest polymer 3D printer in the world. Designed specifically for the production of extra-large production parts, the system can be found at Ingersoll’s headquarters in Rockford, IL.

“We are continuously testing and advancing MasterPrint in our Development Center” said Chip Storie, CEO at Ingersoll. “Among Ingersoll’s short-term objectives is for MasterPrint to 3D print molds for aerospace that preserve the geometrical properties and tolerances, vacuum integrity and autoclave resilience normally obtained with traditional technology, but with the cost and time reduction only additive manufacturing can offer. The relentless progress our MasterPrint process has made in 2020 has finally made this target attainable.”

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Experts say COVID-19 has spurred supply chains to focus on short-run manufacturing, but the industry needs more regulation to protect intellectual property rights

Instead of sourcing components from single suppliers, manufacturers are starting to look for smaller orders from a range of suppliers to guard against the supply chain disruptions seen during the pandemic.

Slimane Allab, senior vice president and general manager, EMEA of supply chain tech company LLamasoft said, “Short run manufacturing is effectively bridging the gap between product prototyping and full-scale manufacturing plans.

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3D printing enables swift response to Covid-19 amid disruptions

The 3D printing technology also served as an alternative and more efficient manufacturing option to keep up with the demand for nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs.

Amid worldwide disruptions in supply chains due to Covid-19 restrictions, the 3D printing technology has enabled on-demand solutions for needs ranging from personal protection equipment to medical devices and isolation wards, say researchers.

The researchers examined how the digital versatility and quick prototyping of 3D printing has enabled the rapid mobilisation of the technology and a swift response to emergencies in a closed loop economy.

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How 3D printing can impact climate change and business this decade

3D printing is the essence of tech for good. Over the next decade it will be crucial to our ability to solve the climate crisis and it has huge potential to lessen the impact of manufacturing on the planet.

But the business case for embracing 3D printing is just as strong. The technology has the potential to transform every industry and change the way we work and live in the future. Within the manufacturing sector it will play a significant role in reducing waste, challenging global supply chains and offering greater flexibility in the manufacturing process.

Last year, the world experienced unparalleled growth in the 3D printing market. Entrepreneurs have clamored to enter this space for the last five years, competing to develop new software and applications. The venture capital market raised huge funds, to the sum of over $1.1 billion, by 3D printing start-ups in 2019 alone. We are already seeing unprecedented adoption rates and aftermarket supply chain growth.

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Agile supply chains can be facilitated by 3D printing

3D printing

This week, California-based metal 3D printing company Velo3D revealed it had raised an additional $12m in funding, taking its total to $150m. The money will be used to develop a new approach to metal 3D printing, reducing the need to re-design parts for additive manufacturing.

Velo3D believes this approach can help engineers realize the potential that lies in metal 3D printing.

The 3D printing industry is not short of potential. In 2019, GlobalData estimated the market would be worth $32bn by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% between 2018 and 2025.

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The pandemic is speeding a shift to 3-D printing

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.

The Pandemic Is Speeding a Shift to 3-D Printing
Source: Bloomberg

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.

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3D printing use for MRO will double: report

Dive Brief:

  • The use of 3D printing for maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) will double “in the coming years,” according to a survey of 114 respondents, conducted by Dimensional Research and Essentium, a 3D printing platform. The survey did not specify a time frame for “in the coming years.”
  • The respondents see use cases for 3D printing in various types of prototyping and parts production. Benefits of the technology include reduced lead times, cost reduction, the ability for mass customization and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
  • Despite respondents naming cost reduction as a benefit, the plurality reported cost as the biggest obstacle to adopting 3D printing at scale. 3D printing technology and materials are too expensive, according to more than one-third of respondents.

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