Shifting to Remote Work And how can Additive Manufacturing Cope with it?


Lee-Bath Nelson  

3D-Printed-Sugar-Lab-Engagement-Diamonds-Technology-2 remote work

Last week we looked at what could be the New Normal and the one aspect of it that seemed obvious is that the steady state of remote work will increase significantly compared with the “old normal”. Tessa Blokland, LEO Lane’s co-Founder, posits that people doing individual work will work most days from home and only come in for group activities such as workshops, brainstorming, creative sessions, and social interactions. However, this applies mostly if everything you do centers around a laptop and some zoom-able (or in-person) meetings, but what about when you are working with a machine like a 3D printer and you’re used to watching it like a hawk? What about when a lot of collaboration is needed to get to that best-of-breed part we want?

Home Sweet Home

When asked for their preferences post-covid in an informal poll on LinkedIn, only 5% of over 300,000 people said they want to go back to 5 days a week in the office while 70% want to work at least 3 days a week from home. Companies are also on board with this. In the latest earning call, Deutsche Bank’s CEO was enthusiastic about the real estate and travel savings that remote work brings – and this is the investment banking industry that even recently was adamantly opposed to remote work with offices in the center of metropolis centers. These trends are already taking having an effect: CNBC says NYC real estate deals have slowed down more than 50% while places like Florida and the Carolinas are increasing in popularity. Earlier in this pandemic, PWC polled CFOs and over 50% of them said remote work is planned to be a permanent option and that they would take steps to improve the remote work experience.

container_home-sweet-home-3d-printing-120135 remote work

What does improved remote work experience entail for Additive Manufacturing (AM)? First and foremost it is minimizing the amount of time that needs to be spent next to the 3D printer itself. For this you need to be able to set the job on a separate computer and send it to the printer from afar. Monitoring the printing from afar is also part of the solution. Being able to interact with the printer through its software (and the APIs it offers) is a must for these solutions so the cooperation of 3D printer manufacturers is key. In addition, being able to control the things that are essential for a successful print is crucial – best is if this is automated and can be set once and then enforced each time this item is printed (LEO Lane can help with that). Of course, for some tasks, being physically there is a necessity (e.g., loading material to the printer, emptying a printer bed full of 3D printed items, clearing a bed-gone-wrong) so working remotely 5 days a week is not possible for a printer operator, but the more tasks can be done remotely the less operators are needed on site to run all the machines – the rest can contribute remotely. Automation and various robots will increase the portion of tasks that do not require on site presence – loading and unloading is already starting to be addressed by some systems like EOS and there is more to come.

Teamwork it is

ExOne and Global_Tungsten_Powder_collaborate

Boston Consulting Group claim that innovation and collaboration (internal and external to the company) go hand in hand. This means that, in spite of the trend towards remote work, teamwork and collaboration are still essential to all companies. In a recent opinion article, Ramon Pastor who heads HP’s 3D printing business argued that “Value-Driven Collaboration Is No Longer Optional” so our ecosystem is not exempt. In order to collaborate efficiently yet remotely technological solutions are needed to ensure that the collaboration happens smoothly and also that each company’s know how and IP is safeguarded. This is especially important in AM where most collaborations create digital assets (3D printable items) that will later become repeatably 3D printed physical items. It’s hard enough collaborating when we can travel to visit each other and have multi participant workshops together, with expected lower travel and less in person gatherings, it is so much harder.

Hack at it

The reliance on remote work puts an added strain on broadband communication and on ensuring an efficient and smooth working environment. It also opens up a lot of remote doors and windows into the corporation, if you’re not careful. Cyber crime has skyrocketed during COVID-19. Ram Elboim of Sygnia Cyber Consulting gave an example of a company whose employee went to a covid related website that had been compromised and in so doing downloaded malware to their device. In “normal days” such an attack would have been prevented by the robust security of the organization, however due to remote working these security measures were weakened and the attackers took advantage and were able to gain direct access to critical areas of the internal network. Fortunately, Sygnia was able to remedy the situation but breaches can come in many forms, including compromising your digital assets. Security measures on your digital inventory are becoming even more of a necessity. In addition, with remote collaboration and work there may be innocent mistakes that ruin a particular print. Consistency, control, and monitoring are key to avoiding and stopping these mistakes. Finally, authentication and identity management methods will have to evolve to stay ahead of the hackers.

failed 3D print

Get a Boost

Aside from the preparations and adaptations to enable remote work for people in the AM ecosystem, AM can help with remote work for everyone. The trend away from the metropolises of the world and towards more affordable, suburban and country locations has only been accelerated and as such the population dispersion is shifting. This will pull even more towards more distributed, and digital supply chains – something AM is uniquely positioned to support, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, remote work may require more customization than 1 size fits all cubicles. That is another strength of AM! As a result, companies in the AM ecosystem have benefited from increased interest in our ecosystem. Personally, I don’t think this will reawaken the hype over a 3D printer in every house but I do think that local service providers can flourish in this case. Beyond that, turnkey solutions that make AM parts from OEMs accessible to their customers will be in demand. Of course, I also see that security, tracking, and IP protection are crucial enablers for all this :-) )

Why now?


Many are asking why will remote work catch on now when it didn’t in previous crises. I think the short answer to that is bandwidth and cloud. Both technologies have reached maturity so that video and voice over IP are smooth and we can have zoom after zoom without interruptions in quality and similarly working on cloud applications often seems more efficient and smooth than on your company’s on-premise server software. This has laid the groundwork and the pandemic has given these technologies a huge unexpected boost because they were forced to the center, they performed, and even excelled. Any way we look at it, remote work is here to stay as a viable option for many. This is a good time for companies to figure out what is needed to support effective remote work, and for employees to figure out where they would like to live in this new arrangement, and set up an office at that home (optionally with 3D printed items).

For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates. Pics: up top 3D printed sugar cubes from Sugar Lab, home sweet home contained from Pinshape, a material collaboration of ExOne and Global Tungsten & Powder, failed 3D print, and Ami Drach & Dov Ganchrow’s 3D printed aids for prehistoric tools).

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