A Global Shift
The global supply chain is undergoing the largest transformational shift since the early days of the internet. When Industry 4.0 was originally introduced, it was simply an academic exercise aimed at benefiting the manufacturing industry through process improvements. Industry 4.0 welcomed new technology platforms such as artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors and additive manufacturing (AM) to promote machine learning and true automation. A decade later, this idea has blossomed into an entire multifaceted network, and many OEMs have integrated one or more of these technologies onto their manufacturing floor. Specifically, the advancements in additive manufacturing materials (plastics, ceramics, metals, etc.) have forced a significant growth in adoption and application. According to the HP Digital Manufacturing Report published in October 2020, 92% of respondents say they are investing in new production/supply chain models, while 79% have already adopted AM to improve agile manufacturing capabilities.
As additive manufacturing continues to reshape the production landscape, the need for better data grows in parallel. Smart manufacturing, defined by adaptive machine learning and rapid response digital platforms, requires actionable information that is collected through sensors or sophisticated software solutions. In order to truly redefine the global supply chain and embrace Industry 4.0, OEMs must combine several different pieces of technology to optimize their current process and proactively plan for the future. AM workflow software is the unsung hero of the digital thread, and it has proven to become a necessary piece to the puzzle.
Below, you’ll be introduced to the basics of AM workflow software, the digital transformation challenges that manufacturers are facing today and the solutions to accelerating the supply chain.
AM Workflow Software | Data is Key
First, we must understand why AM is such an invaluable technology for manufacturing. Since the 1980s, 3D printing (additive manufacturing) was predominantly used as a rapid prototyping tool that engineers integrated into their new product development process because it is cheaper and faster compared to manual operations. Since that time, advancements in materials have justified additive manufacturing as a reliable part production method for a wide variety of applications. From customized consumer products to spare part replacements, or sterilizable medical devices to complex heat exchangers used for supercritical components on rockets, additive manufacturing is a viable alternative to the manufacturing status quo. In many scenarios, it’s the only option.
Adoption is at an all-time high, and manufacturers wish to maximize the opportunity. The way to accomplish this is by optimizing production through data and streamlined communications. AM Workflow software is the tool that identifies AM part readiness, organizes AM equipment capabilities, and seamlessly digitizes that data for cross-department communications. Product developers, manufacturing engineers, and supply chain managers are enabled to access the same information with the same language for one purpose, manufacturing efficiency. What is the cost difference between CNC machining or additive manufacturing? How long will it take to produce a given part? Can I have the part printed locally instead of having it shipped overseas? All of these questions and more are answered with workflow software.
Digital Transformation | Challenges
What does it take to digitally transform your process? Those that are familiar with kitchen remodeling or home improvements know how quickly costs can add up and how complicated things can get before it all starts to make sense. What began as a simple countertop installation has now led to new cabinets, flooring, paint and appliances. Let’s discuss the biggest challenges that supply chain managers face today when embracing Industry 4.0, additive manufacturing, and process improvements.
- Inventory Management - What’s worse than having warehouses filled with spare parts that may never get used? The answer: having to design and purchase expensive tooling simply to manufacture a low volume of parts via injection molding. Both of these scenarios are costly, time consuming and wasteful for a number of different reasons. Supply chain managers are constantly evaluating the demand for parts and are typically overcompensating to reduce the risk of failed part fulfilment.
- Single Source Manufacturing - It’s incredibly common that supply chain managers for many OEMs do not have access or insight to the technologies available across multiple sites. Due to the lack of standardized workflows, security issues and poor communication lines, this results in single source manufacturing. Indicating that one location is responsible for producing and shipping parts across the globe—costly and far from efficient. If this sounds like your company, you’re not alone.
- Shop Floor Automation - Data is the lifeblood of any production facility. Whether your business has one production site or multiple, it’s important to have access to quality ERP and MES platforms. Today, many OEMs have a range of additive manufacturing technologies available which leads to countless material options and post processing requirements. Without a system that can provide accurate and reliable insights to resources and tracking capabilities, supply chain managers struggle to fully optimize AM for true manufacturing automation.
There are certainly more challenges to consider when adopting AM for Industry 4.0 purposes, but there are the most notable and addressable with workflow software capabilities. It’s always important to evaluate your company’s approach to additive manufacturing, leverage current technologies and proactively prepare for what’s next.
Accelerating the Supply Chain | Solutions
Additive manufacturing workflows must integrate with existing supply chains and other ecosystem players in order to become seamless and automatic. The ultimate goal is to collect, track and analyze data throughout the AM value chain that reduces lead times, transportation costs and other bottlenecks within the process. Additionally, workflow software has proven to positively impact internal communications and enhance customer satisfaction.
Automation Alley’s Project DIAMOnD, which stands for Distributed, Independent, Agile Manufacturing On-Demand, is a progressive and forward-thinking program designed to kickstart the digital transformation of advanced manufacturing in America. With a manufacturing network of 300-plus printers located throughout the state of Michigan, Project DIAMOnD plans to capitalize on the value of workflow connectivity to redefine and accelerate the supply chain. Using Project DIAMOnD as an example, we can highlight the positive impacts of AM workflow software integration by 3YOURMIND and the relationship with Automation Alley.
- Digital Inventory Management & Warehousing - By digitizing the production process and centralizing that information in a singular platform, OEMs and service manufacturers can simplify inventory management. Building a qualified inventory with sophisticated PLM software not only reduces costs with quick AM part analysis metrics, it simultaneously provides immediate access to available printing equipment for on-demand manufacturing. 3YOURMIND AM workflow software enables Project DIAMOnD to access a 300-printer network and assign production parts with the touch of a button.
- Distributed Manufacturing - Expanding access to a centralized digital inventory management system is the key component to successfully building a distributed manufacturing model. When on-demand production is localized, this creates immediate fulfillment that eliminates shipping costs and other logistical nightmares. It improves the local economy, enhances customer stickiness, and is favorable for the environment. When it comes to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), the real time data collected by 3YOURMIND AM workflow software maximizes efficiency through connectivity.
- Industry 4.0 & Automation - In order for Industry 4.0 to become a reliable process for true automation, it requires machine learning and predictive maintenance capabilities. Artificial intelligence and sensory data are just as valuable as MES workflow software platforms that will work together to collect the relevant information and make it actionable. The goal of automation is full scale productivity and zero downtime. This makes data collection and aggregation just as valuable as additive manufacturing technologies and materials. As it relates to Project DIAMOnD, the state of Michigan is now equipped to predict AM material shortages and allocate resources with significantly higher confidence levels than ever before. 3YOURMIND’s MES platform is specifically designed to organize a variety of additive manufacturing technologies and is adjustable to accommodate new processes and materials. This is smart manufacturing.
The supply chain is evolving at breakneck speed. The ability to confidently decentralize ordering and production processes vastly increases local manufacturing, which leads to lower costs and better customer outcomes. It simplifies the process immensely and eliminates the nightmares associated with the conventional supply chain. Smart manufacturing is driven by data, and AM workflow software is the tool that strengthens the digital thread making Industry 4.0 possible.
As lean manufacturing transitions to agile manufacturing, many OEMs are left with outdated technologies and processes limiting their ability to grow and adapt. Existing resource management software platforms are not compatible with the benefits associated with additive manufacturing. The ability to design the impossible. Or the option to produce small batch production parts without the need for injection mold tooling. Or access to reliable and accurate cost and lead time metrics. A transition is upon us.
While many service manufacturers and larger OEMs acknowledge that AM is an important part of their growing business, there is still hesitancy. They require data and information collection technologies that complete the digital thread and unlock the opportunities associated with Industry 4.0. Addressing the supply chain challenge means evaluating processes and managing resources to identify ways to become less dependent on third party providers or international suppliers. Embracing the next generation of manufacturing requires a progressive mindset that not only analyzes equipment capabilities but integrates software solutions that drive actions from data.