Additive manufacturing (AM) has the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing space—allowing companies across industries to streamline their manufacturing practices; build lighter, stronger and cheaper parts; and accelerate development and production timelines.
Given how nascent this manufacturing technique is, however, it’s understandable that questions—and adoption challenges—still abound. Here, we help you gain access to the information you need, through the insights of Burloak Technologies’ leading experts, so you can navigate this new terrain with confidence.
In this installment, we chat with Burloak VP & General Manager, Jason Ball, about how AM can help resolve common supply chain challenges and build more resilient supply chains.
- Over the last several years, the topic of supply chain resiliency has become top-of-mind for many manufacturers. Why is this so important—and where does AM fit in?
Manufacturing supply chains have become increasingly complex over the last three decades or so, with most now spanning broad geographies, leveraging a wide array of sophisticated logistics and relying on a large number of external vendors.
This complexity has resulted in a growing number of vulnerabilities, as we’ve seen over the last few years. Since the onset of the pandemic, supply chains have been disrupted for a host of reasons—from heightened demand for consumer goods to a shortage of workers, like truck drivers and warehouse employees.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely these challenges are short-term, which means many companies are looking for ways to revise their supply chain structures. AM can help because it gives you manufacturing flexibility. It allows you to build parts layer-by-layer and, when combined with other measures, it can simplify supply chains, mitigate the risks associated with disruptions, and help companies realize greater efficiencies.
- What are some specific ways that AM can help manufacturers mitigate today’s supply chain risks?
There are multiple different ways in which AM can help address a company’s unique circumstances. To offer one example: When a company builds a relationship with a qualified AM provider, they have the ability to print on demand. This not only significantly reduces the need for large inventories, but it also reduces the risks of supply chain disruptions, allowing manufacturers to print smaller production runs on an as-needed basis without missing a beat. These lower volumes are both economical and they enable faster time-to-production, improved flexibility and accelerated time-to-part.
AM can also help companies simplify their supply chains. For example, because, through AM, manufacturers can print components in one piece rather than machining and assembling many different parts together, they significantly reduce the number of steps needed to manufacture a part—lowering their reliance on multiple third-party providers.
Lastly, if a piece of machinery within the supply chain breaks down, AM can help minimize downtime by quickly printing low-demand service parts, spare parts or meeting other maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) needs.
- How can AM help manufacturers transition their supply chains into the future?
It’s important for manufacturers to build a relationship with an AM partner for a few different reasons. For one, when an AM partner already understands your business and its needs, they can help you adapt to a swiftly-changing marketplace by identifying opportunities to build lighter, stronger or more complex or innovative parts. This, in turn, helps improve a manufacturer’s agility which, in today’s business climate, can be an invaluable competitive differentiator.
Second, a pre-existing relationship with an AM partner can help you establish a reliable contingency plan to address unforeseen production disruption. Due to the flexible and configurable nature of AM, this partner will ideally be able to not only support the organization on short notice or for short-term applications, but also identify potential disruption risks and uncover opportunities to incorporate AM into daily manufacturing practices.
Lastly, as many jurisdictions implement plans to hit Net Zero, companies are being forced to get more serious about sustainability. AM can support these efforts as well by helping shrink a company’s carbon footprint, enabling cleaner manufacturing practices and even producing less waste (because with AM, you’re adding material rather than removing it).
To learn more about whether AM can help make your supply chain more resilient, contact us.