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Should your company move to 3D printing?

Posted: 21 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D printing? additive manufacturing? supply chain?

Editor's Note: Before you transfer to additive manufacturing or 3D printing, it is wise to have a cost-benefit analysis of your business case first. This article will show you seven common supply-chain scenarios where additive manufacturing makes sense.

"Just because you can make something with additive manufacturing doesn't mean you should." Those are the words of Zach Simkin, founder of Senvol, spoken during the 3D printing conference track at Design & Manufacturing Midwest, held in Schaumburg, Ill. this week.

Moving from machining, injection moulding and other manufacturing processes to 3D printing requires analysis of the business case, Simkin pointed out. Some parts can be cost-effectively produced, others can't. Manufacturers need a cost-benefit analysis.

Here's a quick way to do it. Simkin has identified seven common supply-chain scenarios where additive manufacturing does make sense. Do they apply to you?

  • Parts that are expensive to manufacture. Parts with complex geometries, for example, might be less expensive in additive manufacturing. Simkin's example was a part GE produces based on a stochastic or variable demand. Since they must produce the part in small, odd batches, each order can have a high cost per unit. Additive manufacturing stabilised costs and kept the price per unit low.
  • Long lead time. If long lead times are killing your ability to meet demand in real time, a solid additive manufacturing process might help.
  • High inventory costs. If you can't afford to store parts, print them as you need them.
  • Parts sole-sourced from suppliers. If you use a speciality machinist that goes out of business or is acquired by your competitor will your business be seriously hurt? Additive manufacturing can work like an insurance policy, managing your risk.
  • Remote locations. Need parts on an oil rig or on a battlefield? Make parts where and when they are needed.
  • High import/High export costs. Costs added by import and export fees can be eliminated by 3D printing.
  • Improved functionality. Can't get what you need? Design and make it yourself.

Additive manufacturing will become more cost-effective over time, Simkin added, as machine costs drop, machines are run constantly (versus having long idle times), and machines last longer. Shifts in labour costs will also change. If additive manufacturing doesn't make sense for your company today, identify what needs to change to make it cost effective. Usually it will be a couple variables, Simkin pointed out. Keep an eye on those advances.

- Pamela Moore
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