In the recent past, many companies and businesses have suffered at the hands of supply chain disruptions. When businesses are not able to acquire raw material, parts, and resources in a very tight time frame, it can lead to a dramatic cascading effect. When a business isn’t able to meet their throughput demands, not only does it impact their business, but it also strains relationships with their customers.
To minimize waste, storage and downtime, industrial engineers have been refining their production to make it operate as efficiently as a finely tuned timepiece. This results in resources landing at the facility promptly when they are needed, not a moment sooner or later.
Although this practice is highly efficient, it often doesn’t account enough of a factor of safety for when supply chains are down. This in turn will dramatically increase the pain felt when companies can’t meet their demands.
Fixing Supply Chain Disruptions
Events like these are becoming alarmingly common. When a business can’t meet their demands, or cannot receive their resources when needed, they tend to miss out of future sales and opportunities which will ultimately stunt the company’s growth. This growing pain is quite prominent today and is a leading cause of why businesses can’t grow the way they need to.
To combat this, some manufacturers have taken the liberty to acquiring their suppliers’ businesses or mimicking the supplier’s business in their own facility.
Although this attempt to cut out the weak link and bring operations internal sounds like a good solution, it usually comes with a very high price tag that makes it hard to justify.
Additive Manufacturing Solutions
This is where an additive solution can be implemented. 3D printing and additive manufacturing holds the power to be a “one stop shop” that can influence many different parts of your business. Everything from producing new efficient tooling, producing assembly and check fixtures, producing replacement parts and even manufacturing end use parts in production level volumes.
Let’s consider an analogy to help understand this idea. Think about shipping for food. When our refrigerators are running low, we head to the supermarket to go and buy some more. In this example, the supermarket is the supplier and food is the resource we need. If the supermarket/supplier is unable to deliver produce and we understand that we will be getting very inconsistent supply for the next few months, we need to think of a different approach. Obviously, we need to eat, and we need that produce. To combat this, we decide to purchase a planter box which is the tool that can help us continue to meet our demands by growing our own produce. It will continue to supplement our needs when the supply chains are back in operation. Consider the planter box to be the 3D printer which will help smooth over supply chain issues and will also continue to supplement the supply chain once our supplier is better equipped to meet our demands.
Let’s look into how some examples of current additive manufacturing solutions that can help your business own your own supply chain.
Printing End Use Parts
Historically speaking, many only considered additive manufacturing to be a viable solution for prototyping, small batch production and the production of tooling/tooling aids.
The good news is recent advancements in the technology has shifted its focus to enable additive solutions to be more of a manufacturing solution and less of a pure prototyping solution.
Design Freedom and Strength
Take for example the Stratasys H350. This Machine utilizes the Selective Absorption Fusion Technology (SAF) and is known to be the most production geared machine within the Stratasys ecosystem. The H350 can currently print parts using Nylon PA11, Nylon PA12 and Polypropylene with many more materials to follow. This helps enable a seamless transition from traditional injection molded parts to 3D printed manufacturing.
The H350 also compliments parts with finer details than traditional injection molded parts. Since the parts aren’t molded, designers aren’t constrained by draft angles and other molding characteristics.
Additionally, since powder technology is self supporting, designers also no longer need to consider support structure and support material into their design process. This enables complete design freedom to optimize the part for its application and not its manufacturability.
Another strong characteristic about this technology is it offers the ability for designers and engineers to consolidate parts into final working assemblies. This can dramatically reduce assembly time and can help speed up production down the line.
In addition to material availability, the machine has been designed to efficiently nest parts to obtain a very high level of throughput.
For example, we did a case study for a prosthetic manufacture who was looking to produce end use foot orthotics for patients. Traditionally, these parts were made with a CNC to carve out the part from a polypropylene blank. This process proved to be slow, labour intensive and expensive. In this case, the H350 and SAF technology could be utilized to print 144 pairs of foot orthotics in a 13-hour build. This allowed them to rapidly expand their production capabilities, lowered their scrap rate, lowered their tooling costs, and reduced the labour time for each insole.
Replacement Parts and Tooling
Another big market we see additive making its way into is the replacement parts and tooling sector. Traditionally, long lead times and lack of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) support makes finding and installing maintenance parts timely and costly. In specific cases, a down machine could cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars per week all because a simple part is broken and is taking a while to arrive.
Technologies like Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) perfectly aid in alleviating this pain point. FDM systems like the Stratasys F900 and F450 have large build volumes so you won’t be constrained based on part size and also have the ability to print with highly specialized engineering thermosets like Ultem 9085 and Antero.
With the addition of the large build volume and the ability to meet mechanical and chemical resistivity performance, FDM additive manufacturing poises lots of promise to help reduce downtime and streamline your operations.
If you have further questions about how additive manufacturing can be implemented into your facility to help tackle supply chain challenges, please reach out to one of your application engineers and we would be happy to assist you further.