3D printing is a game changer for lean manufacturing
Faced with major disruptions and the continued need to optimize production processes, manufacturing companies are increasingly turning to additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Seif Shieshakly and Patrick Wiebusch, co-founders and managing partners of Four Principles, explain why the growing phenomenon is a game-changer for lean manufacturing.
Across many industries, the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns and border closures have wreaked havoc on supply chains, forcing many manufacturers to quickly reassess and revise their supply chain strategy. With shortages of raw materials and product availability, as well as logistical bottlenecks, 3D printing has emerged as an attractive alternative.
3D printing is the process of bonding resins or powders into a three-dimensional object. With the right technology, virtually anything can be 3D printed, from components for manufacturing processes to large objects such as boats or small houses.
Shieshakly: “When manufacturers faced shortages of spare parts, they turned to local 3D printing service providers.” The approach has proven itself, and now “many manufacturing companies see additive manufacturing as a key part of a future risk reduction strategy”.
In addition to solving supply shortages, 3D printing has a number of inherent advantages. Shieshakly: “For example, it creates very little material waste compared to milling, cutting, and other ‘subtractive’ processes, requires little or no custom tooling, and allows for hyper-customization of components (like 3D printing allows more complex three-dimensional processes). dimensional designs perfectly matched to the requirements compared to standard manufacturing processes).
As a result, “it’s clear that 3D printing is a game-changer in lean manufacturing, supporting all the key principles of reducing waste and increasing efficiency,” Shieshakly said.
Originating in Japan in the 1970s, when Toyota introduced the concept of lean manufacturing, the methodology has a clear objective: to reduce unnecessary operational steps and waste, both in materials and time. “Lean helps manufacturing companies reduce waste by removing anything from the production system that doesn’t add value to the product,” Wiebusch explained.
Example of customer case: Saudi Customs is making impressive efficiency gains through lean.
After monitoring the operational performance of dozens of companies during the pandemic-induced supply chain crisis, “at Four Principles, we clearly see the positive results achieved by manufacturers using 3D printing and other digital tools to speed up and simplify their production,” said Patrick Wiebusch.
“Lean manufacturers using 3D printing need fewer suppliers, require less inventory, produce goods with fewer defects, and develop what the customer wants, when they want it.”
Leveraging Four Principles experiences in the field, Shieshakly and Wiebusch outline six key benefits they see from integrating 3D printing into lean management:
1. Better prototyping
In the industrial sector, prototyping is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to reducing waste. Designing and building a new component or product for the first time poses enormous challenges in terms of material sourcing, drilling, cutting and welding, assembly, inspection and testing.
Not only is prototyping extremely laborious and expensive, but in traditional manufacturing it also typically requires outsourcing, leading to delays that can affect a product’s ability to get to market quickly. When manufacturers can use 3D printing to make prototypes, they can do it in-house at lower cost and with less risk of errors and delays.
2. Increased innovation
If there’s one way 3D printing has improved manufacturing, it’s in the area of design creativity and flexibility. The ability to manufacture something on site, and to design many versions of the same part or product for comparison, gives manufacturers much greater flexibility and freedom to experiment and test new products.
The design stage becomes much more productive with the ability to test multiple new parts and products. Although it may seem like the result is more trial and error, this process of trial and error takes place right from the start, before much time or money has been invested. True innovation requires taking risks, which was much more difficult with older, more cumbersome methods.
3. Improved customization
Unlike traditional manufacturing that relies on molding and cutting, 3D printers can be reconfigured for each new product to allow for variability on the production line. This gives manufacturers greater flexibility to adapt to changes in consumer demand.
4. Improved inspection and reduction of defects
Quality control is one of the key areas where 3D printing improves efficiency. Manufacturers are using 3D printing to create individually designed measuring tools and gauges to aid in the inspection process. These go/no-go measurement tools allow manufacturers to identify and eliminate defects, reducing a major source of waste.
By creating cost-effective measurement gauges, manufacturers improve their inspection processes and speed up go/no-go decision making. The ability to check more parts and perform inspections at more frequent intervals reduces the number of parts scrapped due to defects. Therefore, it is much easier to identify tooling or machining issues when manufacturers can check parts at different stages of the manufacturing process.
5. Improved workspace efficiency
In the manufacturing environment, the way tools are stored and equipment is laid out has a major effect on the required movement of workers. The more tools are at hand and the better organized they are, the less time a worker spends accessing or worse looking for the right tools.
Many manufacturers are now using 3D printing to make custom designed and built bins, racks and other tool holders. Drawer organizers, cabinets and other storage units can also be custom made to streamline workflow.
6. More consistency
With the control provided by programming, 3D printers can produce the same product over and over again in the same amount of time. This predictability greatly enables planning and risk reduction.