Over the past decade, the various forms of additive manufacturing such as 3d printing and rapid prototyping have played a crucial role in significantly transforming the supply chain. The recent attention it is getting from the general public and mass media is only a small section of its actual capabilities, which lies behind the scenes in production establishments. The technology can potentially influence almost all stages of the development life cycle of a product. From the product design to presentation, packaging, delivery- there will be a significant impact of rapid prototyping and 3d printing in all these stages. The dreamy, futuristic prospects aside, it can truly be a challenge to reap the substantial benefits of 3d printing in real life.
3d printing and rapid prototyping can influence the supply chain in five key sectors.
One of the most important functions of 3d printing is product design and development. Engineers and designers are slowly moving from taking 2d designs from a tooling or molding manufacturer of 3d printing, helping to rapid prototype the finished design. This is easily the easiest benefit of 3d printing and it first began in the late 80’s. Today, the technology is all encompassing. More recent developments in 3d printing material are creating rapid prototypes that not only imitate the injection molded look and feel of thermoplastics, but the prototypes can also mimic the properties essential for functional product testing. Today, 3d printing no longer just reveals or tests out a design; it unveils products before the final output is produced.
Due to rapid prototyping, products are now better tested for design flaws, which would otherwise be found once there have been tooling investments. Rapid prototyping is making redesigning and prototyping more affordable across industries such as consumer products, medicine and aerospace. Today, fixing design flaws does not involve shipping spare parts back and forth, waiting for tools to arrive or buying new tools. The CAD file containing the design can be altered, the design reprinted and validated before moving on to the next steps of tooling. Hence, rapid prototyping is helping to shorten the supply chain, thus speeding up the cycle of product development.
Manufacturing Tools and Aids
Fixtures, jigs and other tools that speed up the manufacturing process and hence the assembly lines are very important, but it they can consume a lot of time and money to be developed traditionally. Additive manufacturing being a versatile manufacturing method can help prepare these manufacturing aids with relative ease. The parts created are also accurate and durable, making additive manufacturing a go-to method for assembly line production at factories today. Equipment such as jigs, fixtures, custom tube bender dies, molds, cooling patterns, drill, locating templates, saw guides, etc. have become some of the best kept secrets of 3d printing. This method of making these manufacturing aids assist in ensuring high observable quality, efficiency and profitable production.
High performing thermoplastics that would otherwise be used in extreme pressure and heating conditions can now be coupled with 3d printing. These thermoplastics such as ABS, PLA and polycarbonate are being used for creation of thermoforming patterns. These custom patterns are benefitted by 3d printing in three important ways- patterns of varying sizes, thickness and fluctuation of design and patterns that require various unique shapes. This is why packaging industries are considering 3d printed thermoforming as more economical and more effective patterns that can be effective in better product design.
Manufacture and Production
Development of materials is about to change the face of 3d printing and the world is ready to embrace it. These developments are helping the technology to become progressively common for use in certain processes of manufacturing, making 3d printing process to be used as the finished product. Instead of using 3d printing for mass production or injection molding, engineers have discovered that due to the complexity of 3d printing, it is too valuable to be diluted by taking it into a more conventional method of production. Today, 3d printing is used only when the design is exclusively achievable through 3d printing methods. This is frequently observed in aerospace industries. Also, the turnaround time has to be shorter than a conventional production method for 3d printing to be viable for it.
Creating a Virtual Inventory
In our increasingly connected world, consumer products are being bought with the help of the internet with the help of data from consumers to manufacturers. In the near future, there will no longer be any need of warehouse product storage or tooling inventories. Manufacturers can now have virtual inventories as 3d printing is rapidly becoming an important part in the manufacturing plants. Virtual inventories mainly work in the following way: the CAD files of the design are saved on computers or cloud devices, the manufacturers access the files and print the product. This is then shipped to the designer or straight to the doorstep of the consumers as required.
These amazing benefits of 3d printing, additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping may not have made headlines, but these are going to powerfully impact how we deliver, design and produce in our current supply chains.
Our team of experts are ready to help you.