Many manufacturers have already been using 3D printing technology to experiment and prototype. Yet as printers become better, faster and cheaper, they’re also looking more likely to play a role in production.
HP, for example, is now using its own 3D technology in its supply chain to boost speed-to-market, reduce costs and enhance customer satisfaction. By redesigning its Fusion Jet printer, the company can now produce half of the components in the printers through 3D processes. This has reduced weight, reduced the need for retooling and has created a just-in-time component supply chain that has demonstrated remarkable results.
Beyond prototyping: 3D printing is moving to production
3D printing technology is advancing at an astonishing rate as bigger and faster printers come to market with the ability to print more complex components from a variety of materials.
HP first released its HP Jet Fusion printers in 2016, which at the time were 10 times faster than existing machines and could cut the cost of manufacturing parts in half. Last year, HP announced its Jet Fusion 3D 4210 printing solution designed for industrial-scale 3D manufacturing applications with the ability to print tens of thousands of small components.
Since then, HP has leveraged its own technology to improve its supply chain by having the printers produce many of their own parts.
Engineers redesigned the machines and components to where more than half of the plastic parts inside the Jet Fusion 4200 can now be produced by its own printing technology. “We looked at it through a supply chain lens. The economics had to work … A couple of years ago, you didn't have the ability to do this. Not only do we build this stuff, but we use it, and that’s how we see this evolving,” Stu Pann, Chief Supply Chain Officer at HP, told Supply Chain Dive.
It’s an optimal just-in-time manufacturing process.
Vice President, Global Automation and 3D Printing, Jabil Circuit
A recent report by global manufacturing services company Jabil found more than 80% of manufacturers are now using 3D printing in some capacity. While most are using it for prototyping, a growing number, roughly a third of those that employ the technology, are using it for some part of their production.
HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology uses powder material and fusing agents to print bigger, more complex and higher-quality objects at a much faster speed, Pann said. The printer’s large bed enables it to print greater volumes of smaller components and even larger “structurally sound” pieces. In a case where material extraction technology might print 36 gears in 3 minutes, Multi Jet Fusion can print 1,000 pieces.
“A consumer printer prints a single dot [at a time]. This is tens of thousands of dots every single second, line by line. We’re ten times as fast as traditional 3D printing,” Pann said.
The benefit: Significant cost reduction and less waste
Being able to print components has cut design time in half and saved millions of dollars in tooling expenses, Pann said. In one example, HP realized a 95% cost reduction, 90% weight reduction and 30x reduction in carbon footprint in the drill extraction shoe printhead line by moving it to 3D.
As it doesn't require a mold and can create more complex parts, HP also experienced savings by combining multiple parts into single units. This was especially beneficial since the second-generation machines had more than double the number of parts of the first, Pann said.
Jet Fusion technology also offers a higher rate of recyclability. Powder that isn't used goes back into the process, and parts can also be ground up and converted into a reusable material.
“You get the speed of the printer, life cycle management, additive design. Those three things will change how you look at manufacturing and supply chains,” Pann said. “And we now have ways to fully recycle this stuff at a much higher level than anything else out there.”
3D could play a greater role in production
While many manufacturers have been using 3D for prototyping, only recently have the capabilities grown to accommodate larger production runs suitable for real-world manufacturing applications. As manufacturers of new printers expand print bed size and speed of machines, the breakeven point will become more attractive, said Pann.
Jabil recently introduced the Jabil Additive Manufacturing Network to drive greater manufacturing speed and ability. It uses a cloud-based network that enables customers to more easily move manufacturing workloads to markets where it’s feasible. Jabil has steadily increased its 3D printing capacity over the years and now has 100 printers in operation around the globe.
It recently installed six HP Jet Fusion 4120 printers at its Singapore facility to take over part of a production line. This enables them to produce components in small orders on an as-needed basis on the printer array without retooling or fixturing. Those parts are then polished and brought upstairs and brought into the production line.
“There are no shipping and packing costs. It’s an optimal just-in-time manufacturing process … [the parts] are literally hours old when they go into the production process,” John Dulchinos, vice president of Global Automation and 3D Printing at Jabil Circuit, told Supply Chain Dive.
We looked at it through a supply chain lens. The economics had to work.
Chief Supply Chain Officer, HP
While only a small portion of manufacturing operations are suited for 3D printing, that is changing rapidly as the technology gets “better, faster and cheaper,” said Dulchinos. Companies must consider the performance of their parts, production run requirements, and lifecycle and repair costs. If design is flexible, 3D printing could boost the efficiency of moving from prototyping to production.
Whether or not 3D currently has potential in their production, it’s essential that organizations start thinking about the technology now, according to Pann.
Even small, piloted test applications can introduce key personnel to the capabilities and expand organizational knowledge. As the economics of 3D printing are expected to radically improve over the coming years, supply chain leaders will want to get in front of the curve to build learning in their organization.
“You have to think about where you want to be in a couple of years with this. How do you train your organization in additive design and lifecycle management and start thinking about things differently,” said Pann.