During the current pandemic, I hear a stories  of how automobile parts were shipped via air transport to meet the production timelines or how few companies started using such technologies for manufacturing printable Personal Protective Equipment or Masks to meet the urgency. In the earlier scenario where automobile parts were shipped using air, it needs to meet many travel requirements like IATA Guidelines for Dangerous Goods Transport and similar regulations, what if we could manufacture components directly at location near to customer ?. In this blog I would like to give an overview of Additive Manufacturing and how advanced ERP systems can be used to manage the E2E distributed manufacturing scenario.

It was almost 25 years since Michael Cima and others from MIT demonstrated the technology, 3D printing now picked up speed in manufacturing scenario. The main reason for such heightened interest is the fact that now many organizations recognize this as a valid approach for manufacturing and many raw materials are available which are amenable for use. Besides that, the rapid technological advances in CAD/CAM, Automation and increased cases studies also ushered this technological use.  I do not want to go into the theory of such processes, but we can recognize 3 basic processes like Extrusion technologies, Photopolymerization techniques and Powder bed fusion technologies. Details of which can be found in various books on this topic like Understanding Additive Manufacturing by Andreas Gebhardt or Youtube lecture by Prof. John Hart from MIT.

The use of Additive Manufacturing along with remote manufacturing capabilities nearer to the customer locations will change the way companies are operating their manufacturing today. Though such approaches might be limited by the quantity requirement of the component. But few experts suggest a rough estimate of around 2000 to 5000 parts annually can be put to 3D Printing process. Such approaches will help organizations in meeting the time sensitive needs, avoid short production runs, customize the good based on client needs and rapidly prototype based company needs. So when you look at this process for meeting your discrete component requirements what are the basic principles which needed to be looked at to select a component for 3D printing and how to go about putting your manufacturing and supply chain processes is still a challenging scenario.

Now coming to how IT can transform such processes is by looking at the E2E process of 3D printing. Initially a Product is identified for 3D printing suitability, where in various criteria as assessed like Function and purpose of the object, the temperature at which the product is intended to be operated, followed by designing the layout of the product by using various CAD / CAM Software systems and creating a STL file for actually printing the component during which appropriate 3D technology is chosen for printing, leveraging sensors systems, post processing of the components and shipment to required client location.

Coming to ERP Systems to meet such requirements the various approaches include i) the initial identification of components for 3D printing using various sales and manufacturing attributes can be performed within the system to identify when it is right to make from stock or engage 3D printing, ii) using various Engineering design systems to create a 3D model of the component to be manufactured iii) Collaboration with various stakeholders on the identification of product features and detailed layered information investigation with key stakeholders iv) Identification of right partners for actual printing of 3D printable component v) Processing and Post processing requirements of the manufactured part vi) Quality Control / investigation of the component vii) Finally, once the component is manufactured actual shipping of the component to client locations

IT system can be used for identification of the partners using various services, collaboration within the stakeholders and finalization of the component prototype and actual printing in locations close to customer to avoid transportation costs as well. The advancements in Internet of Things, Sensor data management and on Demand 3D printing systems availability and platform-based service offering around the world along with distribution network will help organizations cope with supply chain issues.

To conclude there are more and more companies which are offering 3D Printing Services and On Demand platforms for using the technology, There are various cases studies of such systems like component manufacturing for Cases, Valves and other consumer products like even Shoes by Adidas or Nike or agricultural components which majorly aim at custom produce rather than mass production, reduce cost, time and reducing waste. It needs a careful digitization of processes in Vendor Management, Manufacturing and supply chain re alignment which has great potential to offer real distributed manufactured scenario to companies in need of the hour.



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