What can additive manufacturing add to your business?
A great conference this week, organized by IN4.0 and hosted at UCLan. As someone who doesn’t actually work in manufacturing, I was completely bowled over by the potential of additive manufacturing. I had thought that 3D printing is just used to produce semi-flimsy prototypes or moulds. I certainly did not think it could produce ‘the real thing’!
As Paul Croft, from Ultimaker, said, there are warehouses full of spare parts stock, which is getting obsolete, which needs to be counted etc … just in case someone somewhere needs a spare part! Think of the wasted resources! Whereas you could use additive manufacturing to produce the part you need when you need it.
What struck me was that additive manufacturing could produce something that could actually be used, i.e. not just a prototype. I mean, if BAE Systems are using it on their planes, it must be safe, right?
According to Mo Isap, from IN4.0, manufacturing in China or Brazil now costs as much as manufacturing in the UK. So manufacturing in these countries no longer leads to efficiency savings. The obvious thing is to invest in current technologies here. I would say: Invest in the actual technology, and also in the right people who are keen to use, develop, and apply these technologies.
I know that margins in manufacturing can be tight, and the current economic situation is fraught with uncertainty … but at some point we need to make a decision. Did we start the business to ‘just survive’? This kind of attitude does not lead to impressive success.
Of course we need to make wise decisions, and we need to calculate risks. But there is now enough evidence that additive manufacturing is an excellent investment. Some examples I heard this week:
- Reconfiguring a steel part to be done in titanium, using additive manufacturing. You get a stronger metal, and it doesn’t cost more, because the reconfiguration means you need less titanium than you need steel (see picture).
- Manufacture tools for individual members of staff. Preventing injuries because of repeat motions.
- Manufacture bigger products which are actually lighter, because of the different metals used.
- Manufacture parts as and when you need them, saving on unnecessary stock.
You may think: Why is someone from a software company trying to convert businesses to use additive manufacturing? Well, because I think there are impressive benefits. But also, we supply manufacturers. So if they succeed, we succeed. In essence, if the whole supply chain supported each other, we would all benefit!
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