The Life Cycle of an Additively Manufactured Product

2017-08-23

Aya Bentur  

Additive Manufacturing with Selective Laser Melting - DMG MORI

Additive Manufacturing (AM) shifts the course of a product’s life cycle. While certain stages such as (re)designing are added, phases such as keeping stock and inventory are eliminated. For companies considering adopting Additive Manufacturing the process can seem rather overwhelming. However deeper consideration of the stages involved in manufacturing such a product highlights the immense benefits of such technology. AM brings a more efficient, sustainable and cost-smart product life cycle here are the 6 main phases an Additively Manufactured product goes through:

#1 Identifying

Not every part or product should be produced with additive manufacturing which is why the first step in a product’s life cycle is to determine which part is right for 3D printing. Rules of thumb for identifying parts for Additive Manufacturing include:
• Parts with an existing batch size that makes them stay in inventory for a long time – this is a cost driven consideration. A company might need to keep stock of a certain part in order to provide customers with repair services even though the need for replacing the part is low.
• New parts or products with uncertain demand/amounts – the decision of the quantity produced is based on estimations. Starting production with Additive Manufacturing gives the company a chance to evaluate the demand in real-time, as well as the flexibility to tweak and adjust the product if needed. An initial AM production batch could save costs of unnecessary production and of manufacturing stock of a not-yet-accurate product.
• Products (or parts) sold in small volume in each geographic location – the same product might need to answer to different regulations according to geographic location, such a product would be ideal for AM.
• Parts/products expected to be too complex for regular manufacturing – shapes and characteristics that could not have been achieved with traditional manufacturing are made possible with AM.

While this is a good list to start with it is by no means exhaustive. Also certain industries have their own considerations. For example, in aerospace reducing the weight of a part is a great reason to go AM.

#2 (Re)designing

The next phase in a product’s life cycle is design. Either designing a new product from scratch or adapting an old design according to the capabilities of AM technologies. In both options there is no need to think of undercuts or the complexity of its shape, an object can be much more complex and combine multiple components. (Re)designing for 3D printing can lead to an optimized design which is lighter and better-engineered. In the design phase, the product goes through an iterative process until finalized.

Optimized 3D Printed Hinge vs Original - EADS

A conventional hinge for a jet engine cover (top) vs the same part designed for AM, which is just as strong but weighs half as much (EADS).

#3 The Parameters

The design iterations are also an opportunity to nail down manufacturing parameters in order to achieve product strength and other requirements, and print multiple test parts to verify specifications. These decisions include:
• Determining material – metals such as aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, plastics such as nylon, photopolymer resin or advanced compound materials, are just a few of the options.
• Determining 3D printing technology – the technology can be a result of the material chosen but it also offers a variety of build options, leading to structural characteristics (an example of the Selective Laser Melting up top and parts printed on HP’s Multi Jet Fusion below).
• Determining finer parameters like specific machines/models and machine settings – in order to achieve a consistent and reliable product, it’s important to determine all parameters, big and small, ensuring dependable quality throughout the product’s life cycle.

A gear assembly printed with HP's Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer

#4 The Virtual Shelf

After locking in the design and manufacturing parameters (all parameters can be safe guarded with LEO Lane) the product is placed on the virtual shelf instead of being added to physical inventory at a much higher total cost. The product or part exists in virtual inventory from the very beginning without being physically produced yet, meaning faster and cheaper production when needed.

#5 Production

Actual production takes place much later in a product’s life cycle compared to traditional manufacturing and distribution. When in Production, the product goes through a number of phases:

• Order placed – when and where, depending on need – the order is placed through an ERP (such as SAP’s ERP connected to its Distributed Manufacturing module ) and can automatically be protected and sent to production.
• Manufacturing – with AM the physical item comes to life layer by layer.
• Packaging and Delivery – all occur closer to the final destination of the order, saving shipping and logistic costs.

If the volumes become huge (millions of items in a geography) – then it is worth investing in investigating other manufacturing technologies. Meanwhile, while using AM, the insights and feedback from the market can quickly be incorporated into the next generation of products or a fix, if needed, on the existing product.

3D Printing with Direct Metal Laser Sintering

3D Printing with Direct Metal Laser Sintering

Additive manufacturing of parts and spare parts - RPU Pedals - Carbon M1

Additive manufacturing of parts and spare parts on Carbon

#6 Phased Out

The product reaches a point where it’s being phased out – but since it is AM it can still be supported for spare parts with on-demand manufacturing, providing customers with consistent service without keeping obsolete stocks.

Daimler Trucks 3D printed spare parts

3D printed spare parts for Daimler Trucks 

The changes to the product’s life cycle are not necessarily disruptive, they are merely a smart adaptation to create a more efficient cycle. Flexibility and adaptability are key to today’s manufacturing, additive manufacturing provides just that. Have you transitioned to AM parts and products? Whether you did or didn’t, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the AM life cycle – share your comments and suggestions below. For more inspiration and information follow us on Pinterest or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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