The Needs of the Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem – An Overview


Aya Bentur  

Mercedes Benz Metal 3D printed Parts

This week we begin a new series of articles, #AMneeds, highlighting needs in the Additive Manufacturing (AM) ecosystem. Each article will focus on one need recognized by LEO Lane, our partners, customers, or industry leaders. The rapid pace of AM technology developments calls for high awareness and constant fine-tuning – future-proof solutions (like LEO Lane :-) ) are crucial. But in order to see if a solution is future-proof, we must consider needs and roadmaps and upcoming or expected new solutions. Today we start a series to help with this: we are taking a wider perspective on the ecosystem and listing 9 needs briefly. Specific needs (on this list and others) will be highlighted in the following posts in this series. Some have already been answered, at least partially, some haven’t been addressed at all yet. We hope that by highlighting the needs we can provide a clear image of the ecosystem and where it can grow.

#1 Lowering the costs

One of the dominant needs that emerged in the process of AM becoming an industrial production method is controlling the costs and comparing them to traditional methods of manufacturing such as injection molding and machining. The issue of cost is traditionally related to the price of machines and materials as well as the speed of production. However, ecosystem participants are realizing more and more than the cost of inventory and the cost and time of production set up and switch are also factors to be considered. A great deal of effort went and is going into improving the financial benefits of industrial additive manufacturing on all these fronts and more. In a previous post, we featured the ways in which additive manufacturing can cut costs – by manufacturing parts that minimize assembly, cutting time to market and development costs, or inventory costs. More about reducing costs in the future (below is GE’s 3D printed fuel nozzle, a famous cost cutter).

3D Printed Fuel Nozzle - Allows manufacturing of Complex Parts - Image credit GE Reports-Chris New - LEO Lane

#2 Inspection and Certification

There are many variables when producing parts and products with additive manufacturing. Inspection and certification are needed in any manufacturing process, especially when it comes to functional and operating parts (such as the Mercedes Benz Metal 3D printed Parts up top). How can a manufacturer maintain a consistent quality control program with visual post-production inspection? How about certification? SAP’s Distributed Manufacturing provides a partial solution but this definitely deserves a more in-depth look soon.

#3 Control and Security

LEO Lane came to be by recognizing this specific need and addressing it. As Shimrit Ben-Chaim, Senior T&SA Manager at Teva Medical Devices said: “LEO Lane gives me the peace of mind to have 3D printed parts produced anywhere and know that the quality, quantity and timeline is controlled by us without compromising confidentiality.” There are other aspects of control & security that can fall under this heading – the roadmap ahead. Providing peace of mind goes a long way to opening up the ecosystem for larger players and larger volumes.

#4 Education and Training

A lack of education and training in all phases of the additive manufacturing process can lead to low adoption of the technology. A new report by ING quotes Adwin Kannekens, Sales director of Wilting, a company that does metal machining: “Technical shortcomings of 3D printers are not the main hurdle for wider use of 3D printing in metal products. Lack of knowledge about 3D printing and cold feet are the most important hurdles.” This is a need that when addressed can expand the applicability of the ecosystem.

#5 Materials

In order to compete with injection molding, machining or welding the materials developed for AM need to be an equal alternative or provide new improved material properties. Heraeus, Sandvik, Oerlikon, and BASF, are just some of the companies answering the material needs, last week we gave a few examples (below 3D printed part by Heraeus) but there is a bigger picture to consider. What material categories are most pressing? Most advanced? Where are efforts being made by large players and entering players?

Heraeus 3D Printed Satellite Thruster Nozzle from Precious Metal Powder Material

#6 Automation & IT Integration

Additive manufacturing is a digital and automated process, but industrial production includes numerous phases before and after the actual manufacturing of the part. Manufacturing companies aspire for the automation of the production process as a whole, end to end. Automation and connectivity are the basis for digital industrialization, and data is key – operating data, analytics of downtime and maintenance, connecting with other (IT) systems and platforms, and tracking the life cycle of the product from development through manufacturing to virtual inventory and supply chain (Digital Twins and Digital Threads also fall under this category). Automation means controlled and efficient production – what are the existing solutions and what could bring digital industrialization to its maximal potential?

#7 Engineering Services and Consulting

Migrating to AM from a different manufacturing technology doesn’t have to be a difficult process, yet it does have to be a well thought out process. When in-house experts need a helping hand (or are not in place yet) engineering services and consulting agencies can come in. Materialise, LAI, Deloitte, and Ricoh provide process mapping and assist companies in building their AM capabilities. They can also help with a specific product or part, in detail, and in the big picture. How far can consultants go before you need in-house expertise? How early or late do they (or should they) come in?

#8 Selecting the Right Parts for AM

Siemens Part Manufacturing Platform - Materials Solutions Blade

One of the very first steps is selecting the right parts for additive manufacturing. Not every part should be additively manufactured even if it could be. There are a number of factors to take into consideration, such as batch size, product demand and its location, complexity, and size (above is a 3D printed blade by Siemens that ticks off all these considerations). Making smart decisions can be facilitated by smart systems, SAP’s Distributed Manufacturing and 3YourMind are some examples but there is much more to be done.

#9 Assembly and Supply Chain

Additive manufacturing brings a much more distributed approach to manufacturing. Parts from different materials, with different specifications, can be produced separately by expert manufacturers all in the general area of the customer. The advantage is a product that is highly efficient in production and quality, without the limitation of one factory or one location of production. The need, in this case, is creating a smooth assembly and supply chain process that is distributed and can be replicated in many production location, each one perhaps handling a lower volume of each item (but potentially a higher overall volume at a higher complexity of assembly and Supply Chain). Where and how are the multiple parts assembled into the end product? How does this work with a highly distributed supply chain?

#10-… <Insert Your Need Here>

If you encountered an unmet need that you would like us to highlight, tell us about it. We will take an in-depth look at singular needs in the coming months in individual posts and your need can be one of them.

Sometimes looking at the big picture in order to pinpoint what still needs to be done gives us the opportunity to see how far we have actually come. Yes, there are still needs that call for attention, and there is always room for improvement, but the impressive industrial advancement of the ecosystem is strong, clear, and growing.

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