Numerous people, disciplines, and perspectives are involved in the life cycle of a product, from ideation through production to use. How do these disciplines and perspectives come into play when additively manufacturing a product? In a previous post about consulting for additive manufacturing (AM) processes, both AM consultants, Benjamin Haller of EOS’s Additive Minds and Pablo Perdiguer Eced of Accenture Digital, emphasized the importance of including the different disciplines within a company when it comes to AM adoption (in production). Different disciplines react differently to the adoption process, each discipline has its own set of conceptions, misconceptions, challenges, and goals. Therefore this week we will look at AM production from 3 points of view: engineering, supply chain, and marketing and the relationship between the three.
Engineers – Battling Misconceptions
Engineers often battle misconceptions when it comes to the integration of additive manufacturing in an existing production line. In many instances the AM engineer takes an existing part design and adapts it to additive manufacturing, this can include optimization of the geometry, consolidating multiple parts into one and so on (below redesigned heat exchanger 3D printed in an aluminum alloy on an EOS M280 – Image via Betatype). In this process, the engineer needs to take into consideration many factors (including some that are different than the those used for traditional manufacturing) such as material transformation, post-processing, and finish. Factors that might not be relevant in traditional manufacturing become relevant and vice versa. The new and intricate set of considerations in the design and engineering process might not be visible or approachable to other disciplines within the company, which puts the engineer in a position of advocate and educator. For example, an internal part which had a smooth surface finish when manufactured traditionally, might not actually require that exact finish to fulfill its full purpose. It might be that additively manufacturing it and leaving it grainy will still fulfill its entire functionality. Yet to the untrained eye a grainy part may seem off spec, it might seem “unfinished”. In these cases, engineers have the challenge of convincing that even though the part might look somewhat different it still has all the same physical capabilities and characteristics and at times even has improved characteristics. More so, a smooth finish can be obtained (if needed) but it will only increase costs and production time. Still, these preconceived notions are hard to let go of.
Mohammad Ehteshami, former Vice President and General Manager of GE Additive described the process of developing the GE fuel nozzle: “The technology was incredible. In the design of jet engines, complexity used to be expensive. But additive allows you to get sophisticated and reduces costs at the same time. This is an engineer’s dream. I never imagined that this would be possible.” Yet although as a trained engineer he recognized the potential of the process as a manager he kept the 3D printing experiments under wraps: “We hid them from our financial management, because we didn’t want them to cut our budget.”
Supply Chain – Do Not Disturb
According to chief supply chain officer at Kimberly-Clark, Sandra MacQuillan, the various aspects of the supply chain should work together towards the main goal – customer satisfaction. “…you have to focus on around making sure that every element of your supply-chain understands its role in delivering customer satisfaction. If you’re in procurement, you can sometimes feel disconnected from the customer at the shelf,” she says. MacQuillan describes the supply chain: “It’s procurement, manufacturing, logistics, quality, safety and sustainability connected and working together… …It’s about achieving a balance between each function, rather than viewing one as more important than the other.” she goes on saying “You have to have people in place who are highly competent in what they do, and are also very committed to the vision of creating value from source to shelf, whether that shelf is virtual or physical”. Digital ERP systems have reached a high level of efficiency and productivity, connecting various steps and departments within a company as well as outside aspects such as customers and suppliers. So, why change something that already works very well? That’s a fair point and indeed ERP shouldn’t change just because a few or even many parts are now additively manufactured. AM enables a company to keep virtual inventory instead of physically occupying warehouses – this is a great advantage cost-wise especially when it comes to spare parts, but if inventory is already managed digitally, where the parts are stored (in a warehouse or a database) shouldn’t really make a difference. In a well-functioning supply chain, virtual or physical, injection molded or additively manufactured shouldn’t matter. As far as the ERP goes, additive manufacturing can have maximal impact with minimal disruption. Our VP sales at LEO Lane, put it nicely: “From Day One, companies incorporating additive manufacturing into their operations need to put into place platforms and solutions that will allow them to move to production without disrupting existing policies and procedures — and without exposing their organizations to unnecessary and potentially debilitating risk.” While additive manufacturing may be considered a disruptive technology it should be non-disruptive when it comes to ERP.
Marketing – Qualities over Technology
If you are part of or following the AM ecosystem, you constantly hear and read about new parts and products additively manufactured, industrial production incorporating AM and so on, but as a user of these parts and products? The consumer or end user of the part probably couldn’t care less. Therefore, sales and marketing aren’t concerned with how a product is made, their interest is its qualities and how it answers the needs of the end user. Marketing texts don’t usually mention the technology itself but rather the part’s advantages and features enabled by AM in the background – responsiveness, variability, customization, and specific features enabled by the complexity possible in AM. Look at the well-known Adidas and Carbon collaboration: additively manufacturing midsoles for sneakers. Now, look at the sneakers on Adidas’s website – “All ADIDAS 4D products feature our high-performance midsole based on 17 years of athlete data. Its single-component design is precisely tuned for controlled energy return, long-lasting cushioning and stability for all your runs.” The AM features are there – if you know what you’re looking for. Most e-commerce websites describe the shoes without mentioning the technology or refer to it in vague terms such as “made up of 20,000 individually formed struts“, “an engineered sole created with light and oxygen” or simply the “Adidas 4D sole” (below screenshot from solebox website, 2nd below is the 3D printing process). The inner workings of integrating AM in production are not visible to the end user and, just like most aspects of industrial production, the technical details are not important, even avoided in order to maintain an air of mystery and high-end.
Marketing aims to promote a superior product, the goal is to answer the needs of the customers, offer better features – this goes back to the engineer’s work, completing the triangle.
Each part and person in the AM ecosystem has its own unique perspective, what’s yours? Tell us about it in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates (up top Mixee Me 3D printed figurines).