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Additive Manufacturing (AM) is now primarily used when manufacturers prototype a new production process. But technology has tremendous potential to do so much more. AM can transform the entire production process and drive lean manufacturing.
However, making that transition requires suppliers to connect the devices to existing plant-floor, front-office, and back-office systems. This process can be daunting and requires top management support, as well as the right software solution. But with all those pieces, manufacturers can streamline manufacturing processes, improve equipment utilization, enhance capacity planning, boost productivity, lower expenses, create new products, and increase revenue.
Additive Manufacturing Enters the Next Phase
To take advantage of AM’s capabilities, companies need to recognize where the technology stands now and more importantly, where it is going next. Many organizations have tinkered with 3D printing, but mainly on the fringes: rapid prototyping and experimenting with new designs, The technology has not moved to the center of the production process. Why? The technology has been limited because of its minimal integration capabilities.
Manufacturing is a complex process, as information needs to flow from system to system in a cohesive, consistent fashion. AM printers often lack that connectivity. The interfaces among the different systems are complex, and linking them is beyond the purview of most suppliers. Bluestreak | Bright AM can solve this shortcoming.
As its connectivity, reliability, and scalability improvements, AM becomes a valued part of the lean production process, a term popularized by work done at Motorola with its Six Sigma program. Goods producers leverage this business framework to improve production control.
Traditionally, the multiple steps involved in creating a product are slow and cumbersome. Plant managers often lack visibility into how well work is flowing. In most cases, they do not know how many products and how efficient a run is until it is over. As a result, they cannot implement adjustments when needed, thus increasing run times, lowering yield, boosting expenses, and decreasing customer satisfaction.
The improved connectivity available in new solutions addresses that limitation and enables manufacturers to adopt lean best practices. Companies can now track workflow in real-time. More visibility has long been a common desire for goods suppliers, so with real-time information, they can find out what is happening on the production floor and make adjustments as needed.
With such keen insight, they also gain numerous efficiencies. Manufacturers can better manage raw material availability, so if new orders arise, they can request more materials. Depending on workflow, they split and combine parts as they complete various steps within a work order.
The routing of work can be optimized on the production floor, thus reducing the time that items sit in transit and on shelves in warehouses. Spare parts are around when needed, which reduces overbuying because now there’s better insight into the procurement process. Suppliers can also validate part quantities dynamically and provide more accurate forecasting for the next step in the process. Consequently, quality control and product forecasting improve.
How to Implement Lean Manufacturing Processes
AM introduces significant changes to the manufacturing process. Suppliers can dramatically alter their operations, boost productivity, lower costs, and expand their product lines. However, they can still grapple with personnel issues.
One challenge is that suppliers have relied on well-established processes. Front-line employees may not feel comfortable making such changes themselves. Such moves require top management approval and support. They need to buy into the vision and drive it throughout the organization.
Advocates also need to show rather than tell. Consequently, companies should consider starting small and building on their initial success. A pilot program where costs are contained and value clearly measured is a good place to begin. This approach improves the odds of success while reducing the impact of capital expenditures. Upon the pilot’s completion, they can clearly articulate the reasons for making the change.
The Bluestreak | Bright AM Difference
To realize the potential benefits of integrating AM into the production process, product suppliers need to find the right partner with the right solution. They require a real-time MES/QMS Additive Manufacturing software. Bluestreak | Bright AM provides that functionality. The system operates as either a standalone solution or connects to the floor and back-office solutions, extending AM’s reach. With it, manufacturers enact lean principles.
AM is currently poised to make a major transition. The technology is extending its reach from product prototyping into the entire manufacturing process. With it, suppliers can streamline workflow, provide real-time performance visibility, enhance management of each operating step, and boost quality management. Manufacturers need to start preparing their organizations for this next phase of lean manufacturing.
When your quality control process needs improvement, you’re wasting time and money. You are also putting future business at risk, and we know how small of an industry this can be. Dissatisfied customers tend to spread the word to their colleagues, which can hurt future sales. Recognize the warning signs and take action today by contacting Bluestreak | Bright AM.