Side Stepping the Pitfalls: Ensuring Safe and Secure Additive Manufacturing


Lee-Bath Nelson  

Additive Manufactured Metal Bracket for the GEnx Engine Approved by the FAA

Transitioning to production with additive manufacturing (AM) is a strategic move for large companies. It opens the door to huge efficiencies including, cost savings along with revenue-generating opportunities such as virtual inventory and emergency spare parts, to name a few. However, there are risks that come with the move to digital.

EOS -Additively Manufactured Automotive Daimler Buses Spare Parts - Photo by Tobias Hase
EOS – additively manufactured automotive Daimler Buses spare parts – Photo by Tobias Hase

Take virtual inventory (or digital inventory) for example. With a digital file, companies need not worry about the cost of batch manufacturing and storing of physical parts. There is also the added benefit of having the flexibility to react to market demands. Sounds ideal, so what’s the problem? Well, there are several issues that are manageable with traditional inventory but can become untenable with virtual inventory. For example, in a physical facility, should theft of an item occur, the company only loses income for one item. On the other hand, if someone steals or misplaces an unprotected digital file, which includes details of how to produce a part, then the company’s intellectual property (IP) is compromised and senior management will suffer many sleepless nights. Not only that, but the person in possession of the file can now reproduce and sell the part as often as they please, resulting in a noticeable loss of income to the company – yet another headache.

3D printed window guide rail BMW i8 Roadster - batch
3D printed window guide rail BMW i8 Roadster

Unfortunately, there’s more… Parts need to be produced correctly. One might think that if the perpetrator only took the STL (geometry) files and didn’t get their hands on the required printer / material settings, then they can produce only inferior parts. Problem solved? On the contrary, having faulty parts with the company’s logo available on the market is a CEO’s nightmare. This compromises the brand’s integrity and can genuinely affect the bottom-line.

Safe and secure additive manufacturing

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. There are a number of forward-thinking companies with solutions that address the issues I’ve outlined – including LEO Lane.

Ensuring IP protection, consistency enforcement, and quantity control allows brands to not only benefit safely and securely from AM in production but also address any concerns that top management may have. Here are a few key things that companies should consider when they’re looking to address these issues:

  • IT matters. Check that all the IT procedures and policies are adhered to – IT will not change file handling just for AM files. So, companies need to make sure they can hold those files together with all the other files and treat them the same way (back up policy, disaster recovery, etc.).
  • The less software to install, the better. Of course, Software as a service (SaaS) cloud-based solutions are the preferred option as they are instantly accessible and updated.
  • Seamless integration. This is paramount, and the solution should be easy to fully integrate into an existing workflow. Remember, procurement will treat physical and virtual inventory the same. Before investing, ask about previous integrations – how long did they take? How many people were needed? A solution that’s easy to integrate is a promising indication of a well thought out architecture that will stand the test of time and ecosystem changes.
  • Make sure all of the eggs are not in one basket. The best solutions make it difficult for unpermitted access to be success. For example, they’ll need more than a username and password to steal your assets.
  • Last but not least…Of course, you should add to these all the obvious checks (that the solution works well, covers everything, is flexible, etc).
Certified Additive Manufacturing at Materialise
certified additive manufacturing at Materialise

Starting with this kind of software basis, the workflow you are putting together will not only be good for business but also good for peace of mind – yours, your manager’s and your CEO’s.

Additive manufacturing brings with it fantastic efficiencies. Partnered with the right SaaS solution, companies can rest assured that they’re not only reducing their inventory cost but also protecting their brand integrity and ensuring premium product consistency (up top additively manufactured metal bracket for the GEnx engine).

This article first appeared on TCT magazine.

Tell us about your concerns on the way to integrating additive manufacturing into your production. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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