The arrival of 3D printing brought a renaissance in the seemingly timid manufacturing sector. It has unshackled age-old concepts of limitations, constraints, and importantly mass production. The technology is now promulgating the concept of distributed additive manufacturing.
While mass manufacturing was a solution to meet the rising consumer demands in the 1920s, today’s scenario is quite different. Today, consumers demand customized products and such demands cannot be met with traditional methods. Companies desire faster turnaround times and super-efficient supply chains and it is only possible through distributed additive manufacturing. What is this concept and does it hold any value in comparison to the age-old traditional manufacturing methods? Let us find out.
A Case (Not) For Traditional Manufacturing
Mass manufacturing, a legacy of Henry Ford, revolutionised the way products were manufactured. The late 1910s and 1920s saw the rapid rise in manufacturing capacities and production of huge quantities of products to meet the demands of consumers.
Even today, more than 90-95% of all production happens through this technique. But like every technology mass manufacturing also has its constraints. As the name suggests, mass manufacturing is only for ‘mass manufacturing’ and not suitable for low volume production. This is where 3D printing trumps the traditional processes big time.
Distributed manufacturing is an evolving concept and one that is being adopted by a growing number of companies globally. It is also known as localised manufacturing or decentralised manufacturing. Its agenda is to bring manufacturing closer to the customer through setting up distributed facilities across the globe.
The concept was born due to the ever-rising fuel, and subsequently, the logistics prices and the overall impact of centralised production on the environment. Adding to this, the global trade wars, military stand-offs, and now the global pandemic have brought the supply chain limitations to the fore.
By focussing more on localised production companies can supply and operate more efficiently. Many companies that implemented distributed manufacturing were able to continue their operations without any disruption even in the current pandemic.
So the benefits are quite obvious. A recent Digital Manufacturing Trends Report by HP revealed that 52% of companies are now exploring the benefits of distributed manufacturing.
Distributed Additive Manufacturing
Distributed additive manufacturing is the use of additive manufacturing for the transition to distributed manufacturing. One of the core reasons for the emergence of the distributed manufacturing concept was the simultaneous growth of additive manufacturing. 3D printing gives companies the freedom to efficiently operate at all volumes and this is ideal for transition to a lean and localized manufacturing facility.
Below are the key advantages that additive manufacturing brings to distributed manufacturing strategy.
Rapid On-demand Manufacturing
3D printing gives manufacturers the ability to manufacture on-demand and in low-volume. Instead of producing in bulk and warehousing it or waiting for a MOQ till the market shifts to your competitor, additive manufacturing can churn out high-quality products on-demand.
This also reduces the production and supply lead time and products reach the market faster. This is the key to the implementation of distributed additive manufacturing concept.
3D printing gives a unique advantage of establishing a digital inventory. By converting compatible products into a digital file and storing them virtually, 3D printing can eliminate the need for stocking a lot of slow-moving goods. Whenever any product is needed, only the digital file will be sent to the local manufacturing hub and the part will be 3D printed. This will eliminate a huge amount of inventory costs.
3D printing presents a unique opportunity to manufacturers to eliminate the tooling stage. This means that all 3D printers operate without the need of a tool and so a 3D printer can print out all sorts of designs with ease. A 3D printer only requires a digital design file and it starts 3D printing the product.
The implication is that every single 3D print can be customised without incurring additional costs. This provides manufacturers with the power to mass customise products and efficiently cater to their customers.
Mass customisation is the future and the power to achieve it so easily makes a case for distributed additive manufacturing.
The global pandemic has certainly been a catalyst to make companies think about the future of manufacturing. In search of economic growth, most companies are looking to embrace distributed additive manufacturing.
With 89% of global companies looking to evolve their business models, 59% evaluating hybrid models, and 52% looking into distributed manufacturing, the writing is on the wall – embracing the new technologies and new business modes is the only way ahead post this pandemic.
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