The second piece in our series highlighting the needs of the Additive Manufacturing ecosystem, #AMneeds, addresses partnerships as a way to reach end to end solutions and seamless integration. Partnerships, in general, are a way to move forward quickly without a large investment of time and money – the right partnership can solve complex problems, advancing the ecosystem substantially. Partnerships are at the core of many needs within the AM ecosystem, you might say it is the need to answer needs. Each of the needs in this series can benefit from partnerships, and although we will go into each need individually, we thought it worthy to put together several different needs that we think can be helped by partnerships, keeping in mind the definitive goal – seamless integration.
Developing advanced materials for industrial manufacturing is a complicated task for one company. It requires an in-depth collaboration between different capabilities. Material or chemical companies, machine manufacturers and service providers. There is a definite need for R&D partnerships that can tackle the issue. One current example is the HP material platform where companies such as Arkema, BASF, Evonik, Henkel and Lehmann & Voss develop industrial grade materials suited for HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology (below is an MJF testbed at HP Lab used to determine material printability). Hopefully, more material related partnerships will arise, widening the range of industrial processes and materials as well as improving the quality and predictability of the resulting end materials. More materials lead to broader adoption of AM in industry and a wider application to more products and parts (up top are additively manufactured parts by Arcam).
Connecting Knowledge – What Parts are Suited for AM?
Deciding which parts to additively manufacture is the first step to smart adoption. The right part can bring a considerable increase in profit but choosing it is a collaborative effort. It needs to take into account design characteristics, manufacturing and assembly costs, supply chain and inventory models and more. At the very least it requires collaboration between many departments of the same corporate but many times joint offerings that can pull information from the ERP, as well as the Manufacturing process and the finance back office, will speed this process up considerably. A partnership here between the large companies that specialize in these functions would facilitate and might partially automate what is now a sometimes daunting task.
Choosing the right part is also about analyzing its true cost – sounds simple but also crosses departments and solutions. The true cost is derived from engineering, production, as well as inventory, logistics, and other supply chain costs. Some might go further and look at the marketing cost (and benefit – customer loyalty anyone?). Partnerships between customers and several software vendors can yield interesting case studies that could, in turn, provide much-needed templates for these types of calculations.
Plugging the Human Capital Gaps
Another need that can be addressed by joining forces is the issue of missing human capital. There are not enough trained professionals (and it might not be cost-effective) for every company to employ every kind of expert needed for the entire process from design through engineering to manufacturing all going through the back office systems. One way to leverage the abilities and know-how of existing employees and make up for the lack of others is to partner with companies that complement the skill set across the ecosystem. The specialty material example above is one such case but it isn’t the only one. We often see service providers voluntarily contributing their know how to customers without a partnership in place. Consulting firms are also involved in a way. It looks like the HP & Deloitte partnership is leveraging both companies’ (and their respective employees) abilities to have a wider offering for customers.
Across the Ecosystem
Last, is the ultimate goal of a partnership: integration to provide end to end seamless solutions. These partnerships address the need for easy deployment without too much disruption on the customer side. It’s hard to have all the components in-house but partnering with the right vendor can create a compelling solution that is easy and friendly. For example, one of the final stages of production in metal AM is inspection (below Renishaw touch probe), in order to optimize the production process efficiently the feedback from the inspection phase should be fed back to previous phases of manufacturing. This kind of operational partnership can provide a seamless, automated improvement to the overall process without requiring an overhaul in the process itself.
The industry is split into service providers, material providers, machine manufacturers, software providers, companies, consumers, consultancy agencies (infographic above). The ultimate seamless end to end solution could include all types of players, at all stages of manufacturing – but….. Sometimes complexity can be an issue and too many partners can be good on paper but unwieldy to manage in real life. Will we ever get to full integration and everything fully automated? There is definitely a need – complexity is the roadblock.
Partnerships, by nature, enable addressing complex problems in a seamless way – these are just a few needs that can be addressed by them but there are many more (some will be highlighted in other installments in the #AMneeds series). Perhaps existing partnerships, like the ones mentioned above or LEO Lane’s partnership with SAP, can provide inspiration for innovative partnerships to solve pressing needs.
What are some partnerships you think work? Let us know on social media and perhaps we’ll share your thoughts in a future post. For more inspiration and information follow us on Pinterest or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.