Moving into additive manufacturing (AM) might seem daunting, there are clear advantages and at the same time many factors and risks to take into consideration. Hiring, integration, and workflow are just a few of these factors. Consulting can help guide companies through the process, whether by accompanying the process from A to Z or tackling specific problems along the way. Consultancy firms now have specialized AM consultants who are backed by research, experience, and a deep understanding of the needs that arise in industrial AM. We talked with two AM consultants, Benjamin Haller, Application Development Consultant at EOS’s Additive Minds and Pablo Perdiguer Eced, Digital Business Consultant at Accenture Digital, for some insights on the consulting process as well as some helpful tips for companies stepping into AM in production.
The first step in moving to production in AM is to get internal buy-in in the corporation. This is not a one-time effort but a process. According to Pablo Perdiguer Eced at Accenture (below), “Understanding where in their operations AM can bring the highest value is key to start the journey”. Perdiguer outlines 6 questions companies should ask themselves when beginning the process:
- What should I print?
- Does it make economical sense?
- Are my designs optimized for 3D printing?
- How can I certify the parts?
- How much does it cost and when can I have them?
- How can I do all this process end-to-end in a secure way?
These questions help evaluate the potential benefits. It’s important to take into consideration all the factors along the way and make sure the process is expertly managed. Similarly, when Benjamin Haller (below) outlines the EOS consulting process he begins with the importance of management buy-in, “it starts from management,” he says, “it’s important to involve management from the first moment because it is, after all, a strategic decision”.
Alleviating your Pain
An integral part of this process is having or selecting the right parts, to begin with. Starting with an inappropriate part can kill the project before it even starts. Haller, which was involved in over 50 projects implementing additive manufacturing in industrial use recommends starting from non-critical parts, “this is the moment you want to simplify as much as possible” he says (below screenshot from video of one of the projects Haller was involved in). Identifying not only the right parts as in what is technically feasible with AM but also parts in areas where you have clear “pain points”, areas where you can benefit from additively manufactured parts such as spare parts. In no way does this mean critical parts can’t be additively manufactured (for example up top are EOS industrial 3D printed flight certified components for Bell Helicopter), but as a general starting point, non-critical parts which don’t require a standardized certification process allow for faster implementation, giving the company a “softer” introduction to industrial use of AM.
When and How?
Once the decision to move to AM in production is taken, as in many corporate processes, there is the dilemma whether to bring in consultants to advise, lead, and/or guide the process. Haller describes 2 scenarios where he would advise a company to seek consulting. One is relative to the market: “when you realize that companies in your peer group, your competition, are moving quite fast or quite far ahead and you are not, this is a pretty clear indication that you might be missing out on something or that you might require external support”. The other is internal, companies don’t necessarily require guidance from A to Z, consulting can focus on specific unanticipated challenges within an ongoing process, “when you hit certain roadblocks, when you don’t move anymore, you might require external support,” this can be at different stations for different companies. Lack of skills, lack of resources to achieve objectives or no clear objectives might also indicate a need for guidance. On the other hand, consultants should take into account the ability of the company to implement and adopt the solutions offered. According to Perdiguer, who specializes in technology and strategy, “a situation where consulting might not be as beneficial as it should is when recommendations on how companies should be doing things are made, then leaving them to their fate. It’s crucial to share the journey together so that the output is successfully settled inside the organization”.
Getting Things Done
Each industry and each corporate has its own background and reasons for using AM for end parts or products, but the process has many common steps. It begins with gathering the right people – as Haller points out, this starts with management yet includes all disciplines that will be affected by the process from engineers to the sales department. The next step is finding the right parts as well as the economic justification of additively manufacturing them. In order to assess probability, generating a quick Proof of concept (PoC) can help persuade the decision makers in the company as well as shed light on possible difficulties. “Pick 1 or 2 of these components,” says Haller, “use them as an example also internally to prove that AM can meet the quality requirements and that for that certain application there are economic benefits” (below EOS additively manufactured automotive spare parts and detail view for Daimler Buses – photos by Tobias Hase).
Even after picking the correct parts, showing the economic viability, and showing quality measures challenges remain. Perdiguer points out certification (as in Aerospace components) and IP protection as the main remaining hurdles. Haller also refers to proven production processes, rather than the more restrictive certification, as well as the knowledge gap some companies have between what they think can be produced in AM and what actually can. Once these hurdles are overcome, finally, there is the move into production. Perdiguer makes a distinction between 2 main stages of the process, the first is answering the questions listed in the top section and the 2nd is the actual integration and application enabling real production. The timeline varies according to the needs but speaking about a general timeline he says: “We try to create the guidelines to answer these questions within 8-12 weeks, and then depending on the degree of technology adoption and services required we could be speaking about months or even years”.
With or without consultancy, for many companies, this is the right time to take a closer look at their production, find their pain points and possible AM solutions, we hope this post is helpful in this process and in how companies go about it.