A quick note to start: I have an affinity for coincidences such as this, so I’d note this week’s 5 for Friday is published on 5-5. It’s no Star Wars Day (and for those of you who celebrate this event, May The Fourth Be With You) but it is a fun little note as we begin this week’s collection.
1. Gaining Remote Control of Operations
One of the outflows of the pressures on manufacturing in the past five years has been the need to view processes in a new light. The pandemic created more remote manufacturing challenges, and the supply chain crisis that followed stressed both plant output and parts availability.
“Automation enables manufacturers to quickly change their product mix in accordance with changing material supply, as well as expand production capabilities an achieve greater production flexibility within the same facility footprint,” writes Patrick O’Sullivan of Emerson. “It not only improves production speeds, cycle times and quality (while reducing costs) but also enables manufacturers to efficiently deliver and utilize expert talent in business operations in remote locations virtually anywhere.
“The need to accommodate and interact with remote personnel, production systems and even downstream customers has driven the development of a whole new generation of automated solutions,” O’Sullivan adds. “In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the role of operating remotely from a convenience to an imperative for huge groups of workers and businesses at all levels.”
2. Catching the 3D Wave
Another industry that seemingly has changed from neat concept to vital supply technology is 3D printing. The RAPID+TCT trade event in Chicago this week highlighted how fast and far additive manufacturing has come in the last five years. While 3D printing is a powerful prototyping tool, it has moved well beyond its hobbyist reputation to a sophisticated—and still evolving—plant floor system.
Victor Gerdes, senior director of software product strategy & planning at Stratasys, told me at the show that those who remain on the sidelines in the 3D revolution are missing the chance to solve some vital supply and operational problems. “Early adopters were willing to put up with a great deal of pain,” Gerdes said. “The early majority just wants things to work.”
For that second group—those manufacturers who want more proven solutions—Gerdes said the combination of advancing technology and flexible systems make 3D a vital competitive advantage. “We have really fantastic users, and we’ve given them an hour of their time back today,” he said. “These are are evolutionary improvements. We’re trying to help someone running out of time to do their job better.”
And Gerdes added, “If you’re not in the game, you’re not going to know. That’s where the early majority gets burned. They miss the wave.”
3. One More Facet to 3D Printing
Another area discussed at RAPID+TCT this week was the using additive manufacturing as a large-scale supply chain solution in addition to as a prototyping tool. In discussing his company’s new branding structure after its 2022 aquisition of MakerBot, UltiMaker CEO Nadav Goshen said the issue for spare parts is time and distance, and that’s a gap that can be bridged by 3D printing and the digital transformation. Places with limited infrastructure such as Africa or locations such as oil rigs where spare parts are difficult to deliver and harder to store, production-grade 3D printers can close the supply gap.
“We’re developing products that can really get the parts and put them into the machines,” Goshen said. “We look at it as an insurance policy. In oil and gas, we have had success deploying at drilling rigs. It’s not easy to get parts there.”
The new UltiMaker business structure will focus the MakerBot brand on the educational market and the UltiMaker brand on specialty and production-grade 3D printing technology and materials.
4. And a Third Dimension on 3D
Eric Utley of Protolabs takes a deeper dive into the use of 3D printing for replacement parts in a new Machine Design article. As Utley notes, the replacement parts themselves may have specific geometries, but the way to create those parts can happen in a number of ways.
“Before pursuing 3D printing a replacement part, I always recommend first exhausting all of your sourcing options. If a part can still be ordered from a vendor, it is very rare for it to make economic sense to 3D print it,” Utley writes. “However, some parts are truly ‘unobtanium,’ a fun term restorers use for parts that truly cannot be sourced. There is some investment involved in getting a replacement 3D-printed part, so these parts are of high value. These will usually be parts that, if broken or missing, will render an expensive piece of equipment or vehicle non-functioning and useless.”
5. IDEA Awards Early Bird Gets the Discount
May 12 is the early bird deadline for nominations for the 2023 IDEA Awards. This year we’re seeking nominees in 13 categories that all will have one thing in common: They’ll present design and operations engineers with the solutions they need to gain greater efficiency, effectiveness, safety and sustainability from their operation. Individually, any one of this year’s nominees will be a way to improve operations. Taken as a group, they will be the catalog for plant improvements across a wide audience. But you won’t be able to showcase your innovations if you don’t nominate the products. It’s time to get those entries in now, before the IDEA Awards early-bird deadline passes.