Steps to Adopt 3D Printing Technology in your Manufacturing Workflow
So, what is preventing businesses from adopting 3D printing technology into their manufacturing workflow? Scepticism, lack of knowledge, and a few myths, for example, have all hampered widespread adoption. However, we intend to go beyond these factors and discuss how to incorporate 3D printing technology into your manufacturing process.
The most common ways that most organisations adopt 3D printing into their manufacturing workflow is by directly jumping ship and purchasing a 3D printer simply because of a fad in the manufacturing circle or a competitor purchased one. However, this is a recipe for disaster.
Before implementing 3D printing technology, evaluate your manufacturing requirements and determine how it can be used to improve your workflow. Consider factors like lead times, customization, cost savings, and product design capabilities and where will 3D printing fit into your workflow. It is not necessary that 3D printing must fit in your workflow. Sometimes it is not a good fit and thus you need to drop the idea of using the technology and so assessment and feasibility is an important starting step.
Identify the ‘Right Project’
One of the first steps towards successful 3D printing adoption is identifying the right project. This is easier said than done, and it is thus one of the most important aspects of the process. The identification process will necessitate a collaborative approach involving top executives from the product team, design team, engineering team, operations, supply chain, and even sales and marketing team. Without the input of all of these stakeholders, you will never be able to zero in on the right project.
This is also an excellent time to learn about the benefits of 3D printing, as well as its limitations and applications. At this point, you’ll need a 3D printing expert to weigh in and help the rest of the team clear up any misconceptions about the technology.
Do not limit your understanding of 3D printing to its use as a prototyping or end-use product manufacturing technology. It can also contribute significantly more between these two manufacturing extremes, such as in assembly, building custom tools and manufacturing aids, in-house part replacement, spare part management, and so on. We will see some applications ahead in this article.
So, consider 3D printing as a project and where it can fit into your organisation to deliver the most value.
Decide where to implement 3D printing
As mentioned earlier, 3D printing can be used at various stages of manufacturing.
This is the most common application of 3D printing that most businesses are familiar with and use. It is also one of the simplest ways to get started and a safe bet for ensuring that you are leveraging technology to iterate faster before moving to conventional technologies for full-scale manufacturing.
2. Manufacturing aids
3D printed soft jaw fixture /Source: Markforged
3D printing has also been shown to be a viable technology for creating custom tools for repair and maintenance activities, jigs and fixtures, assembly, loading and unloading of parts during shipping, and other applications.
3. End-use Products
It can also produce end-use parts, and many organisations, particularly those in Western countries, use it extensively. Tesla, SpaceX, L’Oreal, Saint-Gobain, BMW, Adidas, Etihad Engineering, and many other companies are utilising the technology.
Bridge Manufacturing: Bridge manufacturing is a concept that businesses can use to get their products to market faster. Simply put, it means using 3D printing for quick low-volume production runs to compensate for the time required to create tools for traditional manufacturing processes. Once the tools are ready, production can be shifted to mass production, but until then, the company can launch the product into the market and benefit from first-mover advantage.
Full-scale manufacturing: 3D printing has the potential for full-scale manufacturing as well. Although it cannot compete with conventional manufacturing’s mass production volumes, it can certainly deliver high-quality parts for limited edition products or products suitable for batch production, such as in the motorsports, aerospace, and aviation industries.
4. Buying a 3D printer
The obvious next step after evaluating the project and the area where you intend to implement 3D printing is to decide which 3D printer to purchase. You will need to seek the advice of a 3D Printing Expert in order to make the best decision. Monotech’s 3D printing technology experts are well-equipped to assist you, and you can contact us if you ever need assistance making the right purchasing decision.
Some of the 3D Printers offered by 3D Monotech from Meltio, 3D Systems, Markforged.
Other Core Requirements
1. Invest in the Ecosystem
After you’ve determined or narrowed down the 3D printers you can purchase, you’ll need to invest in the technology. Purchasing a 3D printer is not the only thing to think about. 3D printing, like any other technology, has its own ecosystem, and you must consider all costs associated with using the technology, such as software, hardware and maintenance costs, materials, personnel training, and so on.
It is easy to become overwhelmed, but considering the benefits which outweigh the costs, this is a worthwhile investment.
2. Train Your Team
3D printing technology is a new and rapidly evolving field, and it is critical that your team is properly trained in its use. This can include training on software, hardware, using and storing materials, and best practices for producing high-quality prints.Training is important but the team should also constantly upgrade their knowledge and be updated about the latest in the technology.
3. Integrate into Your Workflow
After you’ve purchased the necessary equipment and trained your staff, it’s time to incorporate 3D printing technology into your existing workflow. It is important to remember that you may encounter some difficulties during the initial integration, but persevere. The integration will differ depending on where and at what stage of manufacturing the technology is incorporated.
4. Monitor and Improve
As with any new technology, it’s critical to constantly monitor and improve your use of 3D printing. This can include tracking its impact on lead times, cost savings, and product design capabilities, and making necessary improvements.