Over the last two centuries manufacturing has developed into a highly-refined process, but with constraints around fixturing and tooling that dictate a need for scale to achieve economy. This creates inefficiencies and friction between the product idea and its delivery to the user. This is where additive manufacturing has much to offer.
We are talking revolution here, not evolution. Additive manufacturing provides us with an opportunity to completely rethink the way products find their way to the end user. It will even allow us to make products that previously could not be manufactured economically. Additive manufacturing will offer numerous benefits including proximity to consumer, speed, cost, customization, design freedom, lower volume product introduction, environmental benefits and much more. Here are a few that will help us get this revolution started.
When you think about it, the optimal manufacturing solution is to produce goods in the markets where they are consumed, eliminating the waste that occurs in time, money and resources to get products from one location to another. By its nature, additive manufacturing is digital and provides us with a unique opportunity to distribute manufacturing in a way that that reduces shipping, saving considerable time and money, as well as having a positive environmental impact.
This could radically change our manufacturing footprint. Jabil currently has more than 100 facilities in nearly 30 countries, and with additive manufacturing this could become thousands of smaller facilities, each much closer to the market it serves. It means we’ll be sending files, not products, around the world.
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If there’s one thing we’ve learned over recent years, it is that there is little more important than speed. That might be speed to take a product from order to fulfillment, or speed to bring a new idea to market. Both are faster in an additive manufacturing environment. Additive Manufacturing allows you to make to order and to start that order as soon as it is received, even when that order is unique and requires customization. When a digital thread runs from order to delivery, and data (or a file) is all that is shipped, the manufacturing and supply chain loses friction and operates at a new, greater velocity.
Time to new product introduction can be substantially shortened using additive manufacturing. It can accelerate design through rapid prototyping techniques, avoiding costly tooling, and allowing multiple iterations to be tested quickly and efficiently. Getting new products to market isn’t just efficient and economic, it can be the difference between winning or losing market advantage.
One key trend in recent years is that of consumers demanding more personalization in their products. With traditional manufacturing that’s always difficult and sometimes impossible to do economically. But with additive manufacturing, parts are made in a lot size of one-to-few -- delivering complete flexibility. Imagine a custom insole for a running shoe that fits your unique foot shape and considers your running style and ability. Previously that could not be produced economically or at scale. Additive manufacturing turns all of that on its head and empowers companies to deliver unique products and services.
In the future, it may be possible to print an entire custom ski boot that fits your foot perfectly, has the flex for your weight and ability, costs little more than a regular boot and can be made from a scan of your foot is less than 24 hours, all within yards of the ski slopes.
The design freedom and agility that additive manufacturing allows really gets me, and many of my colleagues in the product design industry, excited. It is not just that Additive Manufacturing allows you to open your mind to new ideas, it enables you to completely rethink the way you design and deliver products.
At the concept stage, additive manufacturing might mean a product that was not economically viable because of amortized tooling costs made it too expensive. With Additive, that same product is now viable. At the design stage, additive manufacturing offers so much freedom to design parts without the need for draft angles or other constraints of molding or subtractive processes, as well as the potential to design sub-assemblies that can be printed as a single part.
In real terms, the smallest practical volume with additive manufacturing is one! That might mean that a brand would choose to have thousands of models of a single product, where the consumer picks from lists of variables to create their unique product. It might mean a tailored solution, like a golf club with a grip based on a scan of your hand, or a replacement joint that is an exact copy of the opposite joint in your body. It might mean making parts for obsolete classic cars, close to a collector who cannot source them in traditional markets. It could mean making a part for an aircraft at the airport, to get it in the air and back to work. This kind of low volume manufacturing is a real game changer – and it’s engineering excellence at work.
Changes in equipment and materials are accelerating the acceptance of additive manufacturing as an industrial production tool, and Jabil is at the innovation forefront. We are using our decades of manufacturing experience, our engineering rigor, and our expertise in regulation and compliance to ensure additive manufacturing is ready to roll out in mass production and achieve the powerful outcomes it promises.
The revolution from subtractive to additive manufacturing is happening faster than you think. It will have a huge positive impact on the where and how goods are produced and perhaps even on the kinds of goods that are available to the consumer. Just watch!