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How to Optimize Your Additive Manufacturing Investment

Blog Alexandre Donnadieu | May 2, 2022 | 5 min read

Alexandre Donnadieu, managing director of 3YOURMIND North America, shares tactics for pursuing strategically sound investment strategies for additive manufacturing.

The additive manufacturing landscape is changing. As businesses, consumers, and national economies grapple with rising inflation rates impacted by supply chain disruptions, many companies across various industries are reevaluating their manufacturing playbooks.

Historically, globalization's long arm has helped raise profit margins for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Still, today we witness increasing urgency to localize production and develop distributed manufacturing models within a 'just-in-time' framework. In addition, disruption regarding critical materials, part availability, and rising transportation costs create a dire need to develop more resilient supply chains that are more reactive to changing global circumstances.

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As part of this revisionist playbook, additive technologies are being looked at by industries like automotive, energy, transportation, aerospace, and defense as complementary solutions that can help localize on-demand manufacturing. Although additive manufacturing (AM) sells the promise of parts available at the push of a button, the reality is that AM initiatives need to be pursued strategically to fulfill (and redefine) return on investment.

This article will discuss two crucial tactics for optimizing the return on your AM investment and the long-term implications of building additive infrastructure within your manufacturing operations.


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First, Lead With Business Vision. Let Technology Follow.

Although additive technology is exciting and has boundless potential regarding design possibilities, it's essential to avoid being too technology-centric when discussing ROI. Leading your AM strategy with production methods and material usage can lead to high investment costs and limited business use cases. 

Instead, use a business model approach to identify where cost justifications exist for AM.

For example, suppose a company faces supply chain shortages or long production lead times for spare parts. In that case, additive manufacturing may be a justifiable expense to limit operational downtime from several months to a few days. Although machine investment and material usage are critical to defining your business case, it's important not to let them get in the way of strategy. Sometimes the most significant gains are the simplest to achieve. Over-investing in technology with limited business applications will only decrease your return on investment. 

A part breaks at an oil and gas refinery. It's a small part, but it's necessary for machine operations. Perhaps that part is no longer in stock or available in a remote storage warehouse. Every day that refinery is not in operation can cost the business millions in lost revenue.

So, let's consider the AM business case.

The oil and gas company has evaluated its part list and created a digital inventory of printable parts using AM. When that part breaks, now it can be produced locally and on-demand with 3D printing. As a result, the refinery's operational downtime decreases, resulting in significant revenue savings. And though the cost per AM part may be more expensive than conventionally manufactured parts, the time saved by reducing operational downtime more than justifies its up-front cost.

Pivoting from a granular perspective of AM cost analysis to a holistic approach to AM product lifecycle management empowers organizations to capitalize on the long-term gains of additive manufacturing strategies. By doing so, industries set the groundwork for more reactive business models that reduce reliance on supply chain, transportation, and warehousing costs. 

 

Next, Use a Top-Down, Bottom-Up Approach to Part Qualification

Once you've established your business case, it's critical to qualify parts suitable for AM cost-efficiency. No matter how savvy your business case, it will fail to launch without printable applications. Casting your net far and wide is paramount. If you fail to evaluate all of your existing parts for additive replacements, you miss out on opportunities to leverage your AM investment. For this reason, a top-down, bottom-up approach to part qualification can make or break your AM strategy.

So what does 'top-down, bottom-up' mean?

When identifying parts for AM, many companies use a 'bottom-up' approach that requires AM engineers and specialists to identify and develop use cases for AM. This process can entail the creation of new designs for conventional parts based on weight, materials used, stress tolerance, etc., to develop a use case for an AM part. However, that process often takes time, and for organizations pursuing an AM strategy, it often results in a slow return on investment.

For this reason, a top-down approach is also necessary to scan existing part inventories for AM suitability. Companies like OEMs with extensive stock lists can use intelligent software, like 3YOURMIND's AM Part Identifier Tool, to evaluate existing part data and receive suitable AM part recommendations based on technology and material. In addition, the part identifier tool also grades AM parts based on an economic score to calculate the cost per part to help decision-makers determine which parts and materials can garner the greatest cost savings. 

With these tools, the process is virtually automatic. As a result, our customers have witnessed time spent identifying AM use cases decrease by 120%.

In fact, customers like Germany's national railway Deutsche Bahn have reduced their time identifying use cases from 80 hours per part to just 37.5 minutes using traditional bottom-up methods.

Similar customers in the railway industry have leveraged this process for even more significant gains. As a result of using this top-down, bottom-up approach, we've seen customers generate over $20 million in cost savings by leveraging additive technology for on-demand production.

In addition, these customers have saved more than $525K in annual storage costs by producing parts when and where they're needed with on-demand additive manufacturing. 

By using this top-down, bottom-up approach, organizations can identify on a strategic level how AM can help them remain competitive in the market, honing in on the right technologies for the right applications.

Envision a New Manufacturing Business Model

Manufacturing isn't known for being an industry that quickly adapts to change. Nevertheless, today's evolving manufacturing landscape offers an opportunity to introduce infrastructure supporting additive technology and capitalizing on long-term cost savings. By optimizing your AM investment strategy to align with long-term manufacturing needs, OEMs can initiate a new manufacturing paradigm in virtually every industry. 

And though standardization and IP security challenges are significant obstacles that AM must overcome, its implications will play a role in reorienting the future of manufacturing. AM creates a vision for enabling supply chain stability through localized production and serves as a driver for long-term environmental initiatives like reducing carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. Moreover, early adopters of these innovations stand to gain an initial return on investment and long-term competitive advantage through increased self-reliance and reactive capabilities to market disruption.

Let's Connect

Alexandre Donnadieu is the managing director of 3YOURMIND in North America, a specialist in workflow software for Additive Manufacturing. Alexandre has worked his entire career in digital transformation for industrial operations. Before 3YOURMIND, Alexandre was an advisor to CEOs and COOs of major industrial firms regarding industry 4.0 and significantly helped them define their business case for AM.

For the past four years, Alexandre has contributed to 3YOURMIND’s global strategy and helped to position itself as an industry leader in AM workflows. In addition, Alexandre has used his expertise to advocate and lead AM digital transformation initiatives in industries like defense, automotive, and energy. 

Connect with Alexandre on LinkedIn.

 

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