What we learned from the Additive Talks (Part 1)

The Additive Talks Day was held on September 10th. The whole day was organized with one idea in mind: “enable conversations”. With that in mind, each panel gathered professionals from different fields and backgrounds that could learn from each other, and most importantly, teach valuable insights to other peers.

First lesson we learned that day, is that no technology is perfect. 514 people registered to attend the event, but due to technical problems with the online platform that hosted the virtual conferences, several people, including 2 of the 12 panelists, were unable to log in properly and attend the conferences. Only 223 people were able to access the platform during the day with an average of 40 people logged in at the same time during each conference. These statistics were below our expectations in terms of organization as we did not expect such technical issues despite the tests carried out prior to the event.

However, first feedback already received from those who attended the conferences show that bringing together AM experts and AM users helps other professionals to better understand, the good and the bad of AM technologies, and most importantly its areas for improvement. A special kudos was given to Kety Sindze, Managing Editor at 3D ADEPT Media and moderator of the panels during the Additive Talks Day. With her unique understanding of the additive manufacturing industry and its challenges, she brilliantly nurtured the debates between the panelists on these pivotal topics for both users and experts.

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The article below summarizes the key takeaways we learned from the first panel “Digitalisation and Distributed Manufacturing: How Important Are They For Additive Manufacturing?”.

Three companies have been invited to discuss this topic: SATAIR, DiManEx and Stratasys.

SATAIR is a 100% Airbus company. The company provides aerospace companies with a wide range of services including aircraft parts, logistics, inventory and battery maintenance services. Two years ago, when the company rebranded itself, it also announced the use of 3D Printing as part of its activities. The first use case the company revealed regarding its AM activities was a collaboration with AM Service provider Fast Radius where Satair called upon Fast Radius to transform the speed and sustainability of aircraft maintenance tool delivery in order to reduce flight delays.

Over the years, the company has been using digitalisation tools to assess data, and determine which AM technology fits for the production of specific parts.

Neola Tressa Mascarenhas was one of the experts that could not connect to the platform. Pieter Ruijssenaars CCO and co-founder from DiManEx as well as Stratasys’ President EMEA, Andreas Langfeld, shared the point of view of customers that could encounter the same challenges SATAIR would have encountered in the integration of digitalisation tools and distributed manufacturing business model. 

DiManEx provides a cloud-based, end-to-end service for distributed 3D manufacturing. Last year, the company selected Logistyx’s TME solution to manage its multi-carrier parcel deliveries. This collaboration further strengthens DiManEx on the market and gives the company a unique positioning to help companies meet on-demand supply chain needs where they needed and cost-effectively.  

Stratasys on the other hand, is the company that democratized industrial FDM technology. The company is also acknowledged for its PolyjetTM Technology that enables multicolour 3D printing.  

A matter of time

First, thinking that integrating digitalisation tools into a company is only the business of big companies is often a prevailing stereotype that companies have. For Langfeld and Ruijssenaars, not only it is a matter of time, but such integration depends on each company’s strategy and where it heads to.

For Ruijssenaars and Langfeld, when companies to take digital transformation to the next level, they have several goals in mind but one of the most apparent and critical gains they are looking to make is around time-to-market.

With conventional manufacturing processes for instance, creating fixtures and tooling includes a set of discrete processes including smaller batch sizes and productions runs. Tools must be changed between each run and these transitions can hamper productivity, increase costs and slow product development and cycles. Embarking on a digital journey can improve such process, and when this digital journey is combined with the use of AM, companies can save time and cost associated with many of these discrete processes.

Indeed, the digital revolution is currently transforming supply chains the same way e-commerce did for retail. In this particular case, instead of storing parts that may never be used, companies are increasingly using a digital warehouse that allows them to produce and distribute on demand.

For Ruijssenaars, today more than ever, it’s more than ever crucial for these companies to integrate a digital platform that would give them access to their inventory and enable them to produce their parts only where and when needed by selecting the digital file online.  “They will therefore benefit from instant access to design files, facilitating more agile, and just-in-time production.” This also means that since AM requires the use of CAD files, virtual teams across the globe can collaborate to create a shared design community.

Combining digitalization, DM & AM

By combining digitizing tools and distributed manufacturing, there is growing evidence that conventional manufacturing techniques are no longer always the ideal manufacturing process for each part, because each part will not always be produced in volume.  Langfeld completed Ruijssenaars’ argument by showing the importance of AM technology in this specific stage.

When combining digitalization and additive manufacturing, companies do not think of how much money they will invest but how much money they will save. Low production volumes are proving to be a viable solution to meet the requirements of distributed manufacturing.”

Taking the example of two aerospace parts that have been produced using Stratasys’ technology, Langfled explained how the production quality of these parts helps aerospace professionals get certification and compliance with all standards, and regulations governing their industry.

That’s one aspect that is often left apart, the aerospace industry is a truly conservative industry.

The nature of this industry often limits the implementation of a true distributed manufacturing business model. Indeed, the fabrication of each part must be followed by a certification process performed by the aerospace company. For example, since the certification of parts is achieved in one location, this makes the process to get the part even longer as other warehouses around the world, cannot directly send a 3D printed part to a local customer.

Moreover, distributed manufacturing also requires taking into account other challenges. Experts did not guarantee that all products will warrant a distributed manufacturing model.

Does that mean that, for certain products, manufacturers will find themselves somewhere in-between adopting a DM model while maintaining traditional manufacturing and supply chains? Can Additive Manufacturing challenge traditional manufacturing like injection molding in mass production? Regarding digitalisation and distributed manufacturing, to what extent is AM ready to be integrated with other areas of a digital factory and what challenges operators can face?

These are some pivotal questions to this topic that remained unanswered, as panelists did not have enough time to answer all questions during the allocated time. We will make sure to provide answers to these questions later on.

One thing was certain: this panel shows that more companies recognise the advantages of DM and more networks are being established to enable the adoption of this business model within companies. Despite the challenges, combining digitalisation and DM can only reduce the distance between manufacturer and customers while improving product quality and customisation options.

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