The first definition of Agile Manufacturing that comes up when typing the term into Google is:

A term applied to an organization that has created the processes, tools, and training to enable it to respond quickly to customer needs and market changes while still controlling costs and quality.

You may already be a fairly lean, mean, manufacturing machine, with tremendous output and minimized overhead. If that is so, could there possibly be a way to become even better? I’m here to tell you that there most certainly is.

The basic principles of manufacturing require a business to produce as much product to sate market demand, no more, no less. To be successful, you of course need to be quick with your output, being able to change existing products or create new ones, and beat your competitors to market to stay ahead of the pack. What we here at CADimensions have noticed from doing business with so many manufacturers is that pretty much everyone suffers from the same basic pain points. Here are three of the bigger ones that 3D printing can make even more agile for your business.

1)    Extremely fast design change and implementation

The beauty of 3D printing, both Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and PolyJet, is how quickly you can churn out different designs, even several at the same time. Depending on if your goal is strength and durability, high resolution and wide color variety, or a little bit of both, 3D printing allows you to prototype faster than ever. You are now able to fail quickly, to succeed faster.

Have you ever heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Well, the folks from FirstBuild, the GE Appliance funded product creation community, has commented on 3D printing by saying “a prototype is worth a thousand meetings”:

2)    Decreases the need for machined manufacturing aids

With Additive Manufacturing, as the name implies, you are joining materials together to create a part, as opposed to traditional orsubtractive manufacturing, which of course entails removed pieces of material to create a part. With the latter, there is much wasted material and costs can skyrocket depending on what material you are using (wood or steel, you are still wasting material, and therefore money). With AM, you have true Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing, having complete control of your process to create exactly what you need, when you need it. The only material you are using is the exact amount you need, and therefore there is very little wasted materials.

If you are skeptical of 3D printing, thinking that the thermoplastics or photopolymer resins are not strong enough to meet the tolerances of your current manufacturing aids that are made of metal, ask yourself this question; is there any reason those aids needed to be metal in the first place? In our line of work, we find many facilities that waste thousands to tens of thousands machining metal aids because it was “the way it always has been”. While I am sure that is true, the times they are a changin’, and in this age of never before seen technological advances and exponentially faster business speeds, you need to be as fast, and agile as physically possible. This could easily be replacing metal parts around your facility with plastic ones. If your concern is strength, in the realm of FDM we even have materials that can withstandseveral thousand psi.

3)    Reduces labor rates

Finally, there is a major point to be said about the significant time saved by using 3D printing. Piper Aircraft has gone on record saying that they can program an FDM part in 10 minutes while a typical CNC program takes four hours to write,” freeing up several hours of that employees time to focus on other work and business pain points. What this translates to is a more optimized work force of factory workers, designers, engineers, and even project managers. They can now redirect their time and effort to more pressing matters that they previously could not focus on due to most of their time being taken up by more menial tasks.

In the case of Danko Arlington, a Baltimore-based sand casting company, FDM was able to do the work of 15 pattern makers only using 2 Stratasys machines. FDM required a significantly smaller team to put out 5-10 times the output of more traditional methods of pattern making. As the video explains, the skill of pattern making is in short supply as it is, so FDM not only helped their business become leaner, but actually saved it. The effect of FDM on their process allowed every contributing member to use more of their time on other bottle necks they previously could not address due to the ineffectiveness of their old processes. Another example, Thogus, is an injection molding house that has used FDM for a plethora of different uses in addition to reducing labor rates, such as 5S efficiency strategy:


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