Mitigating Supply Chain Risk with End-to-End Automated Additive Manufacturing

When considering Additive for its speed, flexibility, and efficiency, examine how to extend these benefits through the final step of the process.

Multiple Orange Post-processed FDM 3D printed parts laying down. Mitigating risk within supply chains is a goal that most manufacturers work toward improving incrementally. For this issue to be brought to the top of the priority list, it usually takes a major, often crisis-inducing event. While we’re probably most accustomed to supply chain issues caused by hazardous weather events or trade disruptions caused by diplomacy, this time around, the global COVID-19 pandemic is the source of economic disruption. The volatile state of the stock market is enough to put many companies on edge right now, not to mention the innate fear that they may not be able to meet contracted deadlines. While this pandemic is inhibiting a variety of industries from operating normally, it is especially impacting supply chains as we know them across sectors like consumer goods, automotive, food and beverage, transportation, and more.

COVID-19 has already impacted hundreds of thousands of people across the globe – and numbers only continue to rise. Considering the pandemic initially broke out in the province of Wuhan in China, many western-based companies who rely on Tier 1 and Tier 2 shipments from China were immediately impacted. As a result, we can expect to keep seeing the cost of shipments from China increase on account of premiums, as well as overtime and expedited freight costs. As demands for certain products spike in the short term, stockpiling will also surely force some businesses into vulnerable positions as they struggle to retain inventory. Now that the virus has given rise to quarantines across Europe and the United States, it is beginning to even impact companies who domestically source their raw goods and labor, as well.

As the situation progresses in the west while some eastern manufacturers begin to bounce back, it is in the best interest of companies to actively analyze the implications COVID-19 is placing on their supply chains. To gain an accurate understanding of their situation and best prepare for the coming months, it is recommended that businesses perform operational risk assessments, round up data across all supply chain tiers, and create a temporary inventory recovery process. While this pandemic makes once-sound supply chains increasingly high risk and unreliable, those who utilize Additive Manufacturing within their supply chain have a little less to worry about.

Where Additive Comes In

Thanks to its on-demand nature, Additive Manufacturing provides a myriad of production benefits while lessening the commercial impact of supply chain disruptions. The ability to produce parts in-house allows for total process control and dynamic flexibility. Having a stockpile of digital designs enables on-demand production, cutting the costs of setting up and managing an initial inventory. As Supply Chain Digital reports, “The cost-benefit [of additive] goes beyond the transportation in that we eliminate the need to get rid of obsolete parts. Only parts that are demanded are produced – no obsolete parts! This is a huge win for the environment and a clear cost saving to the brand.”

Additionally, in-house additive production allows for simple customization of parts, without having to go through a variety of channels. Because 3D printing has virtually no limitations when it comes to developing complex geometries, custom parts can easily be produced en masse, in much less time than more traditional methods would allow. This ability resolves common bottlenecks that arise around more complex assemblies of specialized parts.

While in-house additive production is renowned for low costs and quick turnaround times, its ability to lessen reliance on outside suppliers is especially critical during this period of pandemic and uncertainty. So as more U.S. manufacturers proceed with swapping out overseas labor for domestic 3D printing solutions, they can expect to see faster speed-to-market of new products, quicker order fulfillment, and an increased ability to rapidly adapt their business processes in this volatile market.

Post-Printing: A Help or Hindrance Your New Additive Operation

Those new to additive will need to understand the post-printing step’s notorious reputation for slowing down workflows. As the final leg of the three-step “design, print, post-print” cycle, conventional support removal and surface finishing processes tend to require copious amounts of manual labor or utilize out-dated equipment not designed for additive. For manufacturers turning on an additive operation utilizing finite in-house resources, it is not ideal to start the endeavor using valuable engineer or technician time on laborious finishing of 3D printed parts with inconsistent final part outcomes.

To avoid these sorts of bottlenecks while maintaining supply chain efficiency, an approach that employs an automated solution is key. Letting software take the wheel in the post-printing step can help additive manufacturing reach its full promise of a digital workflow – improved efficiencies, productivity, and consistency with minimal manual labor – ultimately allowing for increased throughput for the entire operation. To truly make the most out of a switch in your supply chain to incorporate 3D printing, scalable and automated post-printing should be a critical factor in your transition plan.

Learn more here about the effects of COVID-19 on the additive manufacturing realm from Gardner Intelligence chief economist Michael Guckes and Additive Manufacturing senior editor Stephanie Hendrixson.

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Pioneering the 3D Post-Printing Market with Sustainable Values

Our dedication to sustainability with postprocess logo.In just the past couple of years, there has been a tremendous trend towards sustainability throughout the world, and within the business sector. The findings within the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report back in 2013 are what initially brought the global warming crisis to light for many. The data in this report, which clarified just how heavily climate change was associated with human activities, would go on to inspire the 2016 Paris Agreement.

While there are many factors to keep in mind when it comes to environmentalism and responsible consumption, the main focus of the Paris Agreement is to keep temperature rise well below a 2°C increase in the 21st century. Actions to reach this goal involve significantly reducing carbon emissions and the consumption of fossil fuels. As climate change continues to be a hot button topic, an increasing number of global initiatives are arising to turn the tide on how humanity is managing its resources.

Fast forward just a few years following the Paris Agreement, and sustainability has become a fundamental factor in today’s consumption and purchasing landscape. Customers now value sustainability so much that more than 90% of today’s CEOs acknowledge that it is fundamental for a successful business. As the pioneers of the automated 3D post-printing industry, we are aware of the responsibility we carry to build a sector that is eager to act upon sustainability initiatives.

The good news is, we’re off to a great start considering that our products are inherently sustainable. Compared to traditional support removal methods, our software-driven technology improves workflow efficiencies while reducing energy and chemical usage. But to us, the most significant value in our solutions is a human-centric one – the reduction of time spent on manual labor. Without our automated solutions, post-printing typically requires tedious hands-on labor to complete support removal or surface finishing. While these inefficiencies can negatively impact a company’s overhead, the energy that technicians and engineers are wasting on post-printing is an even more significant issue. These individuals should instead be able to use their full potential to work on more fruitful projects. Additionally, it’s no surprise that excessive manual labor can have a negative impact on overall health and wellbeing.

Our sustainability initiatives do not end with our products, though. Sustainability is at the heart of our company, and we are continually striving to incorporate more of it into our day-to-day operations. Much like we focus on integrative 3D printing based on the three steps of design, print, and post-print, our efforts towards sustainability trickle down into three concerted initiatives: People. Planet. Profits.

For each of these areas of focus, we’ve drawn inspiration from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. While we strive to incorporate all 17 goals into the foundation of PostProcess Technologies, we have pulled three out to focus our initiatives around:

Goal 3
Good Health & Wellbeing: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.

Goal 8
Decent Work & Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

Goal 12
Responsible Consumption & Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

For more insight, take a look at our new Dedication to Sustainability webpage, where we delve into the variety of actions that we are taking to ensure we’re meeting these initiatives. We’re excited to be building a company that will remain sustainable, in many senses of the word, for years to come.

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