Additive Manufacturing (AM) is not just a technology, it enables highly digital workflows and business models and offers a new way of thinking about manufacturing in general. Last week we compiled a glossary of terms in additive manufacturing processes and in the past in our #AMNeeds series, we highlighted challenges remaining in AM in general and AM workflows in particular. This week we will use the glossary terms in describing 3 AM workflows: preparation, manufacturing, and (digital) supply chain.
The preparation process begins with a virtual model and ends with a physical part or product and equally important, a precise understanding of how it should be manufactured.
Create model – The first step is to design a part or product, fitting for AM.
Find correct 3D printing technology – Finding the correct 3D printing technology is crucial, there are numerous technologies available (infographic below courtesy of 3DHubs), it can be in-house or using a service provider, depending on the company as well as the needs of the specific part.
Sample Parts – The best way to make sure a model is indeed printable is to 3D print it. Now, part characteristics can be checked and choices and settings can be adjusted for the correct part attributes (strength, flexibility, etc).
Test adjust and repeat – Iteration is also important and easily conducted with additive manufacturing. A sample part can be tested, adjusted and tested again, each time drawing conclusions and immediately implementing them back into the virtual model. The design or the manufacturing settings can change according to desired properties. This can include the resolution of the machine, the chosen material or even the desired post-processing.
Finalize – Finalizing the correct manufacturing of a part brings together all the information gathered in the preparation process. There are many variables in the manufacturing process itself and it is important to define the right material, technology and even machine settings for the production, ensuring correct and consistent manufacturing. A LEO file does just that.
Digital Supply Chain
The digital supply chain begins with digital, automated and integrated steps and continues to the physical steps of manufacturing and shipping. Therefore Automation is one of the needs for a functional workflow. More about automation in our #AMneeds series.
Order part – The first step of the supply chain is ordering the part, by placing a purchase order (PO) on an ERP system such as SAP’s.
Automatically send (protected LEO) digital file to be produced near customer – Parts and products in the digital supply chain are kept in virtual inventory, meaning they are not physically manufactured until ordered. When an order is placed the system automatically sends a digital file to be manufactured close to the place of order, allowing for a more efficient distributed manufacturing model. With a LEO file, companies can also control and track the quality and quantity of parts produced.
Manufacture – This is the phase where the part is additively manufactured either in-house or by a service provider (see below for further details). If the desired choices and settings were set into a LEO, a consistent part can be made automatically and be controlled and tracked.
Ship physical item to customer – As the parts and products in the digital supply chain are produced closer to their final destination, shipping becomes easier and more cost-effective.
Even within the manufacturing workflow, the actual additive build of the part is just part of the process.
Aggregate orders – consolidating several parts and products to be produced in one batch.
Nest – done to optimize the utilization of the machine.
Slice build plate – the sliced build plate takes into account the nested items as well as some of the chosen settings (others go directly to the machine).
Manufacture – The actual action of manufacturing is an additive process, according to the choices determined in the preparation process (up top Direct Metal Laser Sintering – DMLS).
Post-processing – An integral part of any manufacturing process. The finishing steps of a part or product can be done for aesthetic or functional reasons, ranging from removing support structures, cleaning, curing, to sanding and coloring. An efficient post-process method is just as important as an efficient AM method, another need addressed in our #AMneeds series.
We hope the outline of these workflows is helpful. Any questions? Write us in the comments below.