How Additive Manufacturing Opportunities Lead to Business Gains

In a world of such rapid business and technological advancement, it is remarkable that today's manufacturers remain constrained by the eternal triad of quality, speed and cost. Achieving the right balance is complex and difficult to generalize, but the good news is that the additive manufacturing has reached new levels. But how do additive manufacturing opportunities complement conventional manufacturing and transform business models across industries?

Analysis from Jabil's 2021 3D Printing Technology Trends survey revealed that additive manufacturing is already enabling unique and better ways for manufacturers to serve their markets. In the last few years, highly regulated industries with precise and rigid standards for safety and quality, such as healthcare, aerospace, defense and automotive, have positioned themselves enthusiastically among those championing the strategic benefits of additive manufacturing.

Embracing digital technologies will help manufacturing companies across industries participate in market transformations and not be disrupted by them. This transition is driven both by value metrics and the growing momentum toward a digital approach to manufacturing. As organizations open themselves to additive manufacturing processes, they can become more agile, collaborative and streamlined.

In this article, we'll discuss the four key ways additive manufacturing supplements traditional manufacturing:

Moving from Prototype to Production

Although its roots have traditionally been in ideation, design and prototyping, additive manufacturing has moved well beyond these narrow origins to include jigs, fixtures and tooling, bridge production, and even modest volume parts production. According to Jabil's 2021 3D Printing Trends survey of over 300 decision-makers, 62% of participants say their company is currently using additive manufacturing for production parts, up from 27% in 2017.

Download the full survey report.

of decision-makers at companies that use additive manufacturing say they use the technology for production parts today

This ultimately represents the outposts of distributed manufacturing networks, which are a reality today. Global networks of additive manufacturing assets, like the Jabil Additive Manufacturing Network, offer capabilities to companies that can produce their part or product closer to delivery. This model takes advantage of digital agility because one can upload design files in Chicago, for example, to be printed at a site in Singapore, closer to its final destination, thereby gaining significant supply chain efficiencies.

The additive manufacturing industry has witnessed recent advancements, which are underpinning the case for distributed 3D printing manufacturing, speeding progress and driving more practical use of related technologies. Here are just a few ways 3D printing supplements manufacturing.

1. Quality

The term "additive manufacturing" is elegantly self-descriptive: objects are created ("printed") through the addition of material, one layer at a time. In contrast to the additive manufacturing process, traditional methods are focused on eliminating material or altering an object's geometry with subtractive manufacturing.

For manufacturers, 3D printing technology has extraordinary utility producing unique geometric shapes and complex designs with consistent quality and at low cost. In fact, additive manufacturing can make it economically feasible to manufacture a lot size of few, and in some cases a lot size of one.

Print quality and machine reliability have increased considerably in recent years. This means that 3D printers are creating better parts with improved dimensional accuracy and surface finish. When we first asked this question in a survey in 2019, nearly four in 10 said they didn't have the confidence in the reliability of the parts produced. In just two years, that number has dropped to 27% of participants.

In 2019

said they didn't have confidence in the reliability of 3D printed parts

In 2021

said they didn't have confidence in the reliability of 3D printed parts

In addition, material, platform and software solutions are enabling companies to overcome significant hurdles related to batch-to-batch and machine-to-machine repeatability. This makes it possible to reduce the time and cost associated with set-up and change-over which enhances the manufacturing system's response to new inputs and market demands.

2. Speed

Additive manufacturing, combined with an intelligent digital supply chain, is helping virtual teams across the globe collaborate on new designs, compare actual physical representations of a product, save time from concept to prototype to pilot to production, and even move production closer to consumers. When we think about this in comparison to launching a product in the conventional manner - with its investment in tools, parts, equipment, partnerships and time to release first articles - the benefits of additive manufacturing are compelling. It's undeniable that additive manufacturing applications can impact the product development process end-to-end.

Additive manufacturing also enables manufacturers to explore multiple iterations and design options in the product development and manufacturing process through rapid prototyping. As healthcare, automotive and aerospace OEMs contend with accelerating innovations in their industries, 3D printing applications in manufacturing have become key to keeping pace with more proactive and agile product lifecycle management strategies.

Similarly, the ability to change a product mix on short notice is a considerable benefit. Every build on a 3D printer can be different, therefore parts can be made to order. Manufacturers are able to react more quickly to changing market conditions, and they can modify production rates to match demand.

Bottom line -- additive manufacturing can potentially reduce time-to-market for a new or refreshed product from months to days.

3. Efficiency

Additive manufacturing leads to a simplified Bill of Materials (BOM) for a given product, which streamlines supply chain management and speeds production. As more and more factories implement additive platforms, smarter designs lead to more efficient engineering, lighter weights, greener processes and overall improvements in part performance. By having a simplified BOM, the entire production process -- and often the end part or product itself -- is improved.

When companies apply design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) principles to part consolidation and system-level-design, the resulting BOM consolidation and reduction of part numbers enable companies to realize exponential savings, and in many cases a more reliable product.

Another cost benefit comes from 3D printing's ability to build highly complex parts with a single machine. With 3D printing capability, you can reduce the economies of scale associated with large, centralized factories. The distribution of manufacturing across the value chain becomes more feasible. Spare parts, rapid tooling and more can be made at distributed sites, closer to end customers, reducing everything from transportation costs to inventory and warehousing costs.

Plus, by converting to a more digital inventory, manufacturers can free up capital, which gives them more flexibility to develop new products, manufacturing processes and/or invest in other segments of their businesses. When fewer parts are held in inventory, users can cut the number of part bins on the shop floor and use less on-site storage.

Reducing the BOM with 3D printing cuts the overhead associated with the extra documentation, inspection, mass production planning and inventory control. Fewer parts also result in less time and labor on the product itself, contributing to extra savings in manufacturing costs.

4. Creativity

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Additive manufacturing's exciting potential cannot be realized without a robust catalog of additive materials to choose from. At Jabil's Materials Innovation Center in Chaska, Minnesota, engineers, chemists, materials scientists and production experts consult with customers in the development of custom, feature-rich powders and filaments for improved performance, durability, flame-retardancy, conductivity and lubrication.

Our survey reports growth in all types of additive manufacturing materials, with the most popular being plastics, polymers and composites followed closely by metals. Metal 3D printing isn't as common as plastics and polymers, but many companies use both. That's true today, and as we look ahead, survey respondents said they want to use all types of materials in the future.

What types of additive materials would your organization want to use if there were certified versions available at a reasonable cost? Choose all that apply.

"New, innovative materials do more than help the bottom line. Groundbreaking approaches with new polymers can solve important challenges in sustainability, healthcare, transportation, environmental care, and aerospace." 
-- Elizabeth Gardner, Senior Chemist & Materials Engineer, Jabil

The Additive Process Evolution

The future of 3D printing is dynamic, and we're seeing growing adoption in recent years. As we look to the convergence of digital technologies (including scanning, integrated information systems and additive manufacturing), it is obvious that manufacturers are looking to these digital solutions to gain efficiencies and speed in the development and production of products.

This evolution has implications for today's business leaders. "There's so much activity going on, so much money and creativity now being applied," Richard D'Aveni writes in The Harvard Business Review, probing, "What's the risk if you wait?" Indeed, as new capabilities increase both the pace and power of 3D printing manufacturing, I am certain that successful companies will be the ones that choose to match this speed, rather than implementing the solution by degrees.

More and more companies are finding out how additive manufacturing is a viable and effective tool for design, prototyping and production. It's becoming an essential tool in the manufacturing toolbox. If you can iterate and improve on your designs using 3D printing to test prototypes, you will end up saving time, money and errors in the production phase. It's not just that additive manufacturing is novel; it has tangible benefits for your business.

Begin by looking to your customers. It's essential to understand what they want and how those needs can best be fulfilled. 3D printing solutions are fundamentally transforming prototyping, tooling, fixtures and production parts. Business leaders who eagerly embrace these capabilities -- and design for additive manufacturing -- will be better positioned to achieve a sustainable success.

D'Aveni advises revisiting current operations. "As additive manufacturing creates myriad new options for how, when and where products and parts are fabricated, what network of supply chain assets and what mix of old and new processes will be optimal?" he asks.

Finally, it's critical to investigate the strategic implications as entire marketplaces begin exploiting additive manufacturing technology. Manufacturing is at least a 150-year-old business and by its very nature is loath to change. However, we are seeing adoption increase and more than half of top leadership surveyed views additive as strategic to their business -- an increase from past years.

of top leadership at companies using additive manufacturing see it as a strategic capability

Additive manufacturing's unique technologies, engineered materials, processes and capabilities place it at the heart of the digital transformation underway in multiple industries. It's undeniably reshaping how companies around the world design and produce their products and Jabil has positioned itself squarely at the intersection of additive and traditional manufacturing processes.

Download the 3D Printing Technology Trends Report

Jabil's third biennial report includes insights from over 300 individuals responsible for decisions around 3D printing at manufacturing companies on technology adoption, opportunities and challenges.

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