Additive manufacturing (AM), more commonly referred to as 3D printing, has come a long way since its introduction in the 1980’s, growing at over 25 percent per annum over the last 30 years and accounting for around $14 billion spend in 2019. It has proven benefits in providing entirely new design capability, redistributing supply chains closer to end consumers, and making manufacturing processes more efficient and sustainable.
AM can help lower the cost of developing complex products, increase design freedom, and enhance the overall efficiency of manufacturing process. Applications range from rapid prototyping and designing to tooling and producing complex final parts in small batches across industries. Four sectors -- aerospace, industrial machines & tooling, medical/dental implants, and automotive –in particular account for nearly 65 percent of the global AM market.
Despite low current penetration levels, other sectors have equal potential to benefit from AM. For example, the maritime and the natural resources industries (mining, cement, chemicals, oil and gas) are characterized by geographic fragmentation and remote locations, posing challenges around logistics and inventory management of parts. The problem can be partly addressed by 3D printing and building a digital spare parts warehouse optimizing the overall inventory and cost of logistics.
" The biggest roadblock for AM’s adoption is not the technology itself but application of its know-how"
While, there are still a few limitations that might make AM seem less attractive vis-a-vis conventional manufacturing for mass production, including high raw material costs, limited material diversity, lack of process know-how, need for process control including higher stability & repeatibiity and limited regulatory standards and accreditations. The technology is rapidly improving by the day and as with any innovation, the economics only gets better with increased adoption and usage. In our experience, the biggest roadblock for AM’s adoption is not the technology itself but application of its know-how.
Companies looking to adopt AM need to follow a structured three step approach to unlock and capture value from their AM initiatives:
• Define the overall purpose & intent for AM adoption
• Form partnerships to de-risk exposure across the AM value chain
• Prioritize & execute AM initiatives based on risk adjusted cost analysis
Step 1: Define the overall purpose & intent for AM adoption
Before starting any AM initiative, it is important to define the value proposition from using the technology and its alignment with the overall strategic intent of the company. Ultimately, any AM initiative needs to address a current business need and make commercial sense. For e.g., some companies successfully use AM for R&D and new product development while others use it for operational efficiency and overall supply chain cost reduction. Most of the prevalent AM applications today can be classified into four categories
• Product ideation & prototyping (e.g., understanding market requirements, product development, reverse engineering)
• Tools fabrication & modification (e.g., complex jigs, molds with internal cooling channels, fixtures for assembly, in process testing and quality inspection)
• Industrial production (e.g., small scale production, distributed manufacturing, on-demand printing, high-mix volume serial production)
• Spare parts (e.g., aftermarket spares, obsolete part production, digital warehouse, supply chain optimization, remanufacturing and parts maintenance)
Step2: Form partnerships to de-risk exposure across AM value chain
Given the lack of in-house AM expertise, partnerships are critical to de-risk investment, maximize success, and build know-how for most companies. Partnerships can be forged for each step of the AM value chain or for a combination of steps from part identification & diagnostic, design & engineering to printing & post processing and finally testing & validation of the AM part. They can also play a big role in building upfront capability and accelerate its adoption within the organization
Step 3: Prioritize & execute AM initiatives based on risk adjusted cost analysis
Most often, companies struggle in shortlisting and prioritizing the right parts or components for AM. It is important to define a structured approach to shortlist parts based on the net value generated from the AM project which is typically a combination of the following factors:
Net Value Generated from AM = Traditional cost of make or buy – Cost of AM + Value of additional benefits from AM – Costs of additional risks
While the standard costs of make or buy are well understood, it is often the other elements which are the hardest to quantify and can influence the overall business case. AM offers additional upside compared to a traditional manufacturing process which all needs to be quantified to make an informed assessment of the business case. For example, quantifying the impact of weight reduction or reduction in sub-assemblies leading to lower in-process inspection cost, lower part suppliers and supplier management cost, or lower inventory and logistics costs or longer product life. Similarly, there are additional risks which needs to be quantified such as risk of build failure or design leakage or IP loss.