By Ferdie Bruijnen, Vice President of Supply Chain Operations and On Demand Manufacturing at 3D Systems
Supply chain is a hot topic right now, and little wonder why. In the current state of global uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus, supply chain is a highlighted sensitivity for many businesses. As we all work to respond and adapt to the new reality we find ourselves in, many are looking for solutions – both short-term and long-term – to alleviate the impact of supply chain disruptions.
Additive manufacturing (AM) is getting a lot of attention for exactly this reason, and this technology is appealing due to its promise of no tooling requirements, near-immediate response times, and the ability to create complex and custom geometries.
The conversation around supply chain assurance and additive manufacturing is multifaceted, and AM can be as much a strategy as a tactic. In the spirit of identifying some solutions to the problem at hand and helping those with an urgent and unexpected need for supply options, I’ll first address the tactical response AM enables. Proactivity is also an option, which I’ll cover in a second post.
Finding local manufacturing options
The power of direct production with AM goes beyond speed to enable a new, distributed manufacturing model. Distributed manufacturing describes the idea of using local manufacturing resources to answer local manufacturing needs. This is the concept that has enabled 3D Systems On Demand to provide hospitals with support during this crisis by producing valves in close proximity to the need for a fast response and delivery.
Our On Demand services are commonly used to answer short-term and low-volume needs, both by customers already involved with AM and those who are new to the technology. In either case, On Demand provides a solution to companies who need parts quickly.
For those who are new to the technology, part of the challenge in additive manufacturing is how to engage with it, and if or when to make the capital investment and build up the competencies of having additive machines. Our On Demand services lower the barrier to entry by allowing customers to get quick access to high quality parts for as long as that approach makes sense for that application, department, or company. Interestingly enough at 3D Systems, some of our most active On Demand users also have their own additive equipment, materials, and expertise in-house, and use On Demand to extend their capabilities through access to our full portfolio of additive and traditional services.
Increasing efficiency with rapid tooling
Additive manufacturing can also help manufacturers on the indirect side of things with jigs and customized fixtures that accelerate and optimize production lines. Becoming faster and more efficient is critical in times where you have been disrupted. For supply chain managers, if you can use the same tool to reduce labor hours and increase quality and consistency, isn’t that worth looking into?
How to get started with On Demand
I have much more to say about additive manufacturing as a supply chain assurance strategy, though this topic admittedly requires a long-term view. For now, suffice it to say that if AM has not been on your radar up to this point, now is the time to do your research. You don’t have to go from 0 to 100, and you don’t have to buy a machine now or ever, but getting some parts designed, printed, and tested would be a good start to safeguarding your supply chain in the face of unforeseen disruptions. If that seems daunting, our application engineers are here to advise on processes and materials that answer your needs. We are here to help you bridge gaps; whatever works for your business so that you know your supply chain is safe.