In this new series we will follow the process of adopting additive manufacturing (AM), a.k.a. 3D printing, in companies. Since it is summer we will devote most of the next few weeks to this series, step by step. This post will give an overview of the adoption process and then we will dive in each post on one specific step. It is well known that this process is daunting and can be overwhelming, perhaps this step by step approach can help. For each step, I aim to highlight the important actions as well as the main challenges that need to be addressed. Some companies opt to take consultants that can walk them through this process (we’ve written of that here and here) or opt to use a turnkey provider who does the entire process for you, such as Replique. Even in this case, I hope this overview can be helpful at the very least in taking an informed decision.
Clearly, different companies start with different AM experiences when they enter this process. Some have never used 3D printing for anything. Many have used outsourced 3D printing for prototyping. Others have in house 3D printing for prototyping and yet others have even dabbled in the past with AM for functional parts. In all these cases, I would still recommend starting from the beginning to make sure what past learnings are applicable to the current status and what assumptions might no longer hold.
Off They Go
The process proposed here is the amalgamation of many cases discussed with OEMs, consultants, vendors, and service providers. Some people do these steps in a slightly different order (and, in any case, it is not as linear as it may seem – you need to circle back and adjust when new realizations come to light). In any case, as with any digital transformation it is important to identify champions and collaborators in your organization’s various disciplines before embarking on this journey. The applicable disciplines are not just design, manufacturing and a customer facing function (after market parts, or sales, or customer retention or the applicable department in your organization) but also finance and logistics/supply chain as well as, in some cases, other parts such as compliance.
1. Figure out your top applications and general strategy – where can AM be most effective for your business. There may be more places than you initially think.
2. Choose initial items and analyze your costs comprehensively – even though step 1 involved some cost estimates and general item choices, the devil is in the details
3. Choose your weapons – what technologies are best for your specific applications and items? Is a redesign in the cards? Is it a design from scratch? Does your chosen application require other changes (e.g., in supply chain)?
4. Get your quick wins – best is to start in parallel to choosing your weapons and can iterate with it. Important to reap benefits and communicate them
5. Refine your strategy, goals, and weapons – incorporating what you learned and reassessing in this view. This is the time to plug systemic holes that might be problematic in production
6. Phased deployment in production – an ongoing loop of deployment and adjustment and where the long term benefits are reaped
7. Look back and ponder – a review in periods after initial deployment can provide insights and also thoughts on additional applications and benefits
** The common thread – these are some recommendations for the entire process start to finish that could help
As the series progresses, we will add the links to the relevant posts for each step so this post can be your starting point and reference. If you have requests of topics you want us to address, please let us know.