In today’s marketplace, there’s a constant desire to reduce cost, timing, and risk in production programs because successfully achieving improvement in these areas leads to sustained, long-term success. A relatively new wave, additive manufacturing, has the ability to affect these goals in ways that weren’t possible before.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, gives organizations the ability to reduce lead times and production launch risk through straight-forward methods. Furthermore, additive manufacturing may remove considerable financial barriers that prevented many competitors from entering the marketplace until recently.
Below are four major advantages that additive manufacturing can provide to help companies reduce cost, timing, and risk.
4 Major Advantages of Additive Manufacturing
1. Reduced Tooling Costs
A major cost driver in manufacturing is tooling cost, and for many low-volume manufacturing companies it can be a sizable impediment to entry because it requires a significant amount of capital expense before the first unit is produced. However, additive manufacturing has started to make progress toward getting over this hurdle using tools built on site at a fraction of a cost of traditional tooling. This creates a couple of benefits:
- Lower tooling costs allows smaller, low-volume manufacturers to enter into the marketplace. Traditionally, if the production volume was expected to be on the lower side of market average, the manufacturer would have to increase unit piece price to recoup their tooling investment; in many cases manufacturers don’t turn a profit until the tooling cost is recovered. With the advent of additive manufacturing this same producer can enter the market at a much lower unit cost, providing a shorter path to profits because tooling cost is reduced compared to traditional tooling. However, a careful study of quality and additive manufactured tool life expectancy must be explored. Also, at some point during the manufacturing life cycle, and under certain market constraints, it won’t make sense to continue using manufacturing tools created through an additive process.
- Lower tooling cost that can be manufactured quickly on site and give manufacturers the ability to test designs before a financial commitment is made to production tooling. This significantly reduces tool investment risk, especially when there’s awareness of the potential for design changes to be implemented after tooling is kicked off.
2. Quicker Speed to Market
In many cases, business is won or lost based on speed to market, and sometimes the success of the entire organization is at stake. In addition, as new markets are created, it pays to be second to market, as opposed to third. A critical method for achieving this goal is to leverage additive manufacturing to reduce production lead time.
No longer does a manufacturer need to wait until market research is complete to justify tooling investments, nor does it need to wait for the tooling to be produced. By leveraging additive manufacturing an organization can enter a new market in days, not weeks or months. This timeframe could be the difference between years of sustained commercial success and fighting to stay in business.
3. Easily Test Complex Component Geometries
Bringing a complex component to market carries much more risk than something that has a more simplistic design because more can go wrong with complex geometry. To de-risk a product launch, it’s important to test and retest the designs so that when your company enters the market, you’ve already worked out the failure modes associated with a specific design.
Traditionally, this was done after production tools were cut and the initial parts were produced from them. This practice increases product launch risk though, because if design issues are discovered after tooling is cut, any necessary changes will require new tooling or tooling adjustments, which often carry expensive price tags and schedule impacts.
4. Better Component Quality
Components that have intricate parts, especially small components, can benefit from the additive manufacturing processes. Typically, components with small moving pieces require strict manufacturing tolerances and highly controlled assembly processes to reduce the number of component defects. Using the additive manufacturing technology of today, manufacturers can print entire components, moving pieces and all, with extremely precise tolerances. Thus, improving product quality and reducing failure risk.
While not a silver bullet, leveraging modern additive manufacturing technology will afford many manufacturers advantages that were very limited in years past. It’s extremely prudent for manufacturers of all types to take a long hard look at how they can use additive manufacturing to their advantage and grow their bottom line.