David Burns is the Principal and Founder of Global Business Advisory Services LLC, an international advising firm specialising in the field of manufacturing technologies. With more than 35 years of experience, David provides insight to businesses and individuals focused on industrial and manufacturing processes ranging from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing. David will keynote at the upcoming TCT Show + Personalize 2016 Conference on 28th September. Register to attend for FREE here.
At RAPID 2016, I saw and heard multiple claims that exhibiting companies were there to “revolutionise manufacturing”. That phrase has become over-used and almost trite. By definition, “revolutionise” means to “change something radically or fundamentally”. Do the newest forms of 3D technologies meet that criteria? In the context of many centuries of manufacturing, I think not.
That said, are there fundamental trends in 3D printing that will, in fact, transform manufacturing? The answer in my eyes is an absolute yes.
For at least 30 years, manufacturing practitioners have embraced the idea of pursuing an optimal state in manufacturing – one in which there is zero waste. Our training in Lean Manufacturing tells us that the journey to that optimal state is never through, but that each step along the road yields immense benefits to companies involved in manufacturing (like lower costs, shorter lead times, bigger profits), to customers (through more customised products at lower prices) and to society (using less resources to create greater output, raising the standard of living).
The current trends that I see that will be transformational are centered on the integration of industrial 3D printing into traditional machine tools and machining lines.
There are a few different ways that this is being done:
- Some traditional machine tool builders are adding 3D printing “stations” within machines that contain other machining capabilities. Thus, using pallets, the user can add material in a 3D printing process and then index the part into a station for machining of the part, including sections that were 3D printed.
- Other machine builders are showing machines that allow parts to be 3D printed in their entirety, with machining operations possible on-machine, during the 3D printing process.
- Finally, a new idea is emerging of rotating a 3D printing head through the tool changer, just as tools and inspection devices are carried in the tool changer.
I do not want to comment upon the strengths or weaknesses of each approach. Instead, let’s look at these from a macro-trend perspective. A few years ago, industrial 3D printing was basically in the experimental stage, and in stand-alone configurations. Now, just a few years later, major machine tool companies are embracing industrial 3D printing and integrating it into their core products and processes.
This rate of adaptation by major machine tool companies is very significant, not only because it validates that industrial 3D printing is feasible, but also because the significant resources that these machine tool companies can apply to product development far exceed the resources of companies that were involved in industrial 3DP a few years ago. The natural result of machine tool companies entering the 3D printing market will be a further and rapid acceleration of product development. Additionally, machine tool companies understand all of the factors that are required to make products really operate in a manufacturing plant – from reliability to service to the supply chain required in a production environment. Resulting products will be more robust and production-ready.
The emergence of multi-function machine tools that have 3D printing capability, combined with the sort of companies producing those tools, means that we have taken a significant step toward embedding 3D technologies into the production process. That, in the end, is truly transformational.
I think back to the teachings of people like Taiicchi Ohno (considered by many to be the father of the Toyota Production System) and Richard Schonberger (the author of World Class Manufacturing). I believe that both would be convinced that the current trend of multi-function machines - that have embedded 3D printing - represent steps forward on the journey towards lean optimisation.
While not a revolution, this DOES change manufacturing forever.