Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have quickly realized how easily economic sustainability can be disrupted. Its negative impact on supply chains and the global economy has been so significant that governments are implementing initiatives to reverse the trend, such as President Biden’s Additive Manufacturing Forward (AM Forward) and India’s National Strategy on additive manufacturing (AM).
Globally, commercial and passenger transportation such as trucks, buses, and trains have also fallen victim to this trend. These industries are in the midst of a deep slump due to falling demand, labor shortages and supply chain delays. Many of these manufacturers have started implementing custom product configurations to maintain a competitive edge, but their ability to supply these products has been deeply affected.
When I worked as a program manager at John Deere Mexico, Antonio Garcia, then president of John Deere Argentina, said, “There is no part more expensive than the part that is not available. He, like many others currently, recognized the need to implement more agile product innovation and flexible manufacturing processes to maintain sustainability strategies and ensure business growth in a post-pandemic reality.
The consequences of the sharp reduction in the movement of goods and the transit of passengers have forced commercial freight companies and public transport operators to park a large part of their assets. They are now able to get them back into service and need skilled labor for maintenance and are looking for hard-to-find spare parts. As a result, transportation manufacturers and direct suppliers are reassessing their financial strategies to achieve resilient supply chains, placing increasing value on speed and component availability for critical parts, as well as integrating processes verticals and by establishing partnerships with regional suppliers located closer to their assembly sites.
Additive manufacturing (AM) has demonstrated its value in enhancing economic sustainability by improving productivity (see Fig. 1). It can facilitate rapid innovation and accelerate speed to market by up to 3x by facilitating part count reduction, simplifying parts logistics and reducing inventory levels by 90%. This produces a myriad of benefits, including reduced risk of potential delays and simplified assembly operations that reduce labor. With AM-enabled monolithic parts, product quality improves, which improves reliability. The need for technical support and the number of spare parts are reduced: we have seen a reduction of 60% for some of our customers. With the need for less inventory on hand, this reduces the need to dispose of discontinued stock parts at the time of product obsolescence.
AM also has environmental sustainability benefits by enabling the production of parts, manufacturing aids and tools that require fewer materials. It produces less waste compared to subtractive manufacturing.
The ability to produce production parts and tools on demand rather than storing them on shelves also saves warehouse space while eliminating the need to store expensive inventory to support products. abandoned.
Because additive manufacturing provides design freedom to create parts that are impossible to produce with traditional manufacturing technologies, it offers engineers a path to design for application versus design for manufacturability, allowing them to to develop more energy-efficient products (see Fig. 2) .
AM has evolved since its inception in the 1980s with the incorporation of many types of printing technologies (e.g. photopolymers, powder bed fusion, direct metal printing, etc.). We have also seen an increase in the number of materials designed to meet end-user production needs and the integration of advanced software applications that maximize design freedom. AM has become a transformational engineering tool for transportation innovation and a key accelerator of vertical integration strategies with a much simpler interface for easy adoption. It’s more than just a way to characterize a production method – additive or subtractive – and enables a different paradigm with unique business benefits.
Production parts without tooling
AM is a process that inherently eliminates a major artifact in the production process: tooling (see Fig. 3). The ability to produce a component directly from its digital representation not only makes the process more efficient, but enables decentralization of the business model, rapid adaptation and delivery for the customer experience, as well as achieving this with less overhead and manufacturing waste. .
Digital inventory management
Thanks to the rapid growth of digital encryption and intellectual property (IP) protection technologies such as digital rights management (DRM) or blockchain systems, the protection of 3D models and 3D printing parameters is a reality. which marries with AM technology (see Fig. 4). Design owners can now distribute digital information worldwide, control the number of physical parts that will be produced and ensure quality, while remote users or manufacturers can print on demand without the need to ship, to insure, store or maintain an inventory.
Rapid production tooling
Compared to the automotive industry, commercial and public transport require much larger parts. And while AM technology is increasing in terms of productivity and build size, some critical parts still cannot be produced using existing AM printers. Many parts, such as large metal castings, external body parts, and large interior panels, cannot be produced as efficiently as desired for final consumption and must be manufactured conventionally. In these cases, additive manufacturing is the ideal solution to quickly create low to medium volume, sacrificial or reusable molds and casting patterns, with the benefit of keeping them as digital inventory tools and eliminating the need of environmentally-controlled storage space for years (see Figure 5).
Bringing Transportation Innovation to Full Speed with AM
Companies with a strong long-term vision of sustainability strive to operate in a way that drives economic growth, solves social problems, and helps the planet by using renewable resources and eliminating waste.
Major transportation manufacturers and direct suppliers are reassessing their financial strategies to build resilient supply chains, placing increasing value on speed and component availability for critical parts. Many are finding success by incorporating AM into their workflows.
For those considering this journey, understanding initial capital investment levels, the right technology that aligns with business needs, and technical training requirements can all seem daunting. This is where engaging a strategic partner can help you receive end-to-end technical support and solutions to not only help you execute AM adoption, but also achieve maximum benefits for your business. With the right partner and the right solution, there is a tremendous opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers of all sizes to accelerate both their innovation and their competitive position through the power of AM.