3D printing is set to make space-hungry centralised storage centres a thing of the past for many products, and eliminate the need for expensive distribution systems.
In the not too distant future, manufacturing may no longer be associated with warehouses filled with stacks of finished products waiting for shipment. Instead, on-demand 3D printing which requires little storage space will allow manufacturers to generate parts to order and reduce overheads by moving production closer to the intended market, shortening the length of the supply chain.
The technology is also well suited for low-volume and customised products, particularly replacement parts. Shifting this sort of work from factory floors to 3D printers would free up manufacturers to focus their time, energy and talents on other goods. What part does a digital warehouse play in this transition, where do you begin creating one, and how can industry help to pave the way?
John Jordan, of Penn State University, understands the vast implications of 3D printing technology on the world and industrial production. Manufacturing as we know it, along with how we create more complex geometries and present them, is being, and will be further disrupted by a technology allowing for innovations to be created faster, better, and more affordably—but also in ways we never expected before. Jordan focuses on the changes we will see in organizational design, concerning decisions in volume of production at the managerial level and which parts will be 3D printed, how options in customization will continue to grow, and what level of education will be required for businesses and their employees adopting new practices in the digital age.
Jordan is careful to evaluate 3D printing and its relative impact realistically, understanding there is no guarantee that it will ‘force a shift,’ or even begin to replace conventional mass production as we know it. He understands that humans, in their most basic forms of creating and manufacturing, have three choices: add, mold, or subtract. 3D printing and additive manufacturing have come along and offered us new choices for on-demand, on-site production—and often in remote locations; great examples of this are developing countries, military installations, and the oil and gas industry.
One of the major advantages of 3D printing is in the ability to reduce part count. I’ve always felt that this advantage doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It is hardly mentioned in the media and its implications and advantages seem to not be understood. Therefore here is my attempt at a hopefully convincing article on reducing part count through 3D printing.
By reducing part count, we mean that a complex thing such as a rocket engine consists of a 100 parts when made with conventional manufacturing. When we redesign that rocket engine for 3D printing we can then perhaps reduce the total number of parts to three. NASA and other aerospace companies have already found this out by reducing parts from 115 to one or fewer.
Supply chain management and the production and storage of spare parts represent something of a sticking point for the global manufacturing industry. Spare and replacement parts have traditionally been stored on shelves in warehouses after having been produced alongside the components used in original production assemblies. Many of these parts will take up space for years, with some going unused but staying put just in case. Out-of-production original assemblies may become fully obsolete once parts are no longer in stock, leaving owners at a loss and needing to reinvest in wholly new products to replace something that may have only been impacted by one broken component that couldn’t be replaced.
Many industries rely on physical inventory to meet aftermarket needs and have accordingly built up global supply and distribution networks.
3-D printing technology, which allows on-demand production of various components for manufacturing at the location itself, can improve productivity by eliminating the need for any transportation, thus reducing the cost and lead times significantly.
Managing inventory effectively and maximizing warehouse productivity rank on top of the priority list of almost all warehouse managers, according to Procurious.com.
Kevin Hill of Quality Scales Unlimited offers some tips on how to improve warehouse management.
Apply Cross-Docking to Maximize Space
The objective of cross-docking is to reduce the shelf storage time of stocks in the warehouse. It helps in transporting warehouse delivered goods quickly to the outbound carriers that can take the stocks to distribution centers. Make sure that the warehouse layout supports cross-docking.
Even though 3D printing has been around for a while, it has struggled to move past its reputation as a high-priced toy for techies.
UPS, along with partners SAP and Fast Radius, a Georgia-based manufacturer, have launched an effort to bring 3D printing full steam into the world of scaled industrial production.
Instead of producing a single trinket or a custom iPhone case on a per-unit basis, the partners have teamed up to print everything from auto parts to medical devices. All of this is done at scale with production runs numbering in the hundreds of units.
“My colleague Sal Spada wrote an article on new developments in the additive manufacturing space. Additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, involves joining materials to make objects from a 3D model, usually layer upon layer. In contrast, much traditional manufacturing has been subtractive; Lathes, saws, and boring tools cut materials down to make a product. There has been some breathless coverage of 3D Printing’s impact on the supply chain. In the supply chain realm is has been speculated that additive manufacturing could be able to transform the spare parts supply chain. The idea is that instead of carrying a plethora of slow moving parts across a network of warehouses, these warehouses could just manufacture the parts as needed.”
Machine spare part obsolescence is a major headache for manufacturers. The stockout costs or consequences of non-available spare parts are invariably higher with longer periods of downtime. As time equals money, in the majority of manufacturing operations maintenance staff take their own approaches to stock management. One such way is the squirrel approach where obsolete parts are gathered for insurance purposes. Some manufacturers look to rationalize their spare part stock profile and often target high-value slow-moving parts, which are usually also the obsolete parts.
Unfortunately the rapid developments in industrial automation have accelerated the obsolescence process, leading many companies to be caught short. But with the recent burst of 3D printers becoming more accessible to the masses, we have been asking ourselves if the dawn of the 3D printer will eventually make obsolescence obsolete. The advancement in 3D printing could well change the process in which spare parts are managed – if the International Space Station can use a 3D printer to print spare parts, why can’t any other manufacturer in the future?