Learn how AM service bureaus can address workflow challenges to scale-up business.
With the rise of additive manufacturing comes a demand from those who want to use the technology but don't know where to start or don't want to invest in the necessary machinery. 3D printing service bureaus (also known as AM service providers, job shops, or contract manufacturers, among other terms), are the answer to this problem. They provide a critical need as they produce 3D parts on behalf of their customers, usually operating at several locations worldwide. And they are becoming increasingly popular.
According to the Wohlers Report 2021, in 2020 independent service providers worldwide generated an estimated $5.270 billion from the sales of parts made using AM, which is up 7.1% from 2019. This represents nearly 71% of total AM services ($7.454) excluding companies such as 3D Systems or Stratasys.
Given how many people are now turning to service providers for their AM needs, service bureaus themselves have been growing as well, meaning they are facing new challenges and difficulties as they aim to scale up operations.
This article is the first in a series wherein we give tips and advice for service bureaus as they look to keep growing and establishing themselves on the market. Specifically, we will focus on how service bureaus can address common problems that come with a growing business especially when faced with immense competition.
Keep an eye out for the second one which will focus on optimizing Production workflows.
What Challenges are Service Bureaus Facing?
With the rise of 3D printing orders, the need for digitization of the processes is becoming more obvious to service bureaus as a way to overcome the challenges faced by customers, thus helping them to get more business faster.
However, there are two problems in particular that service providers point to as the biggest obstacles to scaling up their businesses.
Communication with customers: emails, phone calls, and excel are no longer an option
The first challenge for many service bureaus is communication with customers, which can be very complicated.
High numbers of incoming requests as well as quotes and orders through different channels (emails, phone calls, excel, faxes, and more), eventually lead to both a loss of time and information as well as, manual work and information.
To address this issue, 3D printing service providers need an efficient and collaborative online tool to communicate and manage orders with customers. AM workflow software especially would ultimately improve production flow, thus allowing the bureaus more time to get even more business.
Order intake and pricing hurdles
Many service bureaus do not have a pricing structure, making it difficult to establish accurate pricing that takes into account materials, technology, part complexity, and production requirements.
Issues related to this become increasingly evident as a provider scales up their operations, as small inconveniences become long-term delays. In order to connect effectively with customers, these companies need a tool that can pair requests to their specific orders with identifiers to allow them to stay connected through the journey of an order—from job requests to order delivery.
Customers also need to reduce part validation time, which would be possible especially if all data requirements are combined on one platform.
What is the Solution?
To address these issues, digitization and automation of processes are the most important tools at service bureaus’ disposal.
- Providers need a platform that allows them to easily communicate with customers while managing orders in the back-end.
- By saving time at these critical first steps, these companies will be free to answer more customer requests, meaning they can spend more energy on production management and to get new business.
- 3D printing services that are considering scaling up their businesses must look to invest in the necessary tools, like additive manufacturing workflow software, if they want to be successful and competitive in an increasingly crowded market.
- The Agile ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) platform from 3YOURMIND allows users to submit requests, get instant price parts, and place orders in seconds instead of days. It allows companies to automate both order intake and customer management, with benefits both for the service provider and its customers.
The Benefits of Using the Right Tool for Service Bureaus and Customers
1. On the Front-end for End-users:
- In just a few minutes, users can navigate to a customized platform wherein they can choose from a part catalog to order it, upload designs, choose material and technology, send part requirements and have a precise quote.
- The customers are also then able to follow the order and production process, giving them greater peace of mind throughout the process.
ProtoCAM platform provided by 3YOURMIND
- It goes without saying that this would be time-saving for customers, making it more likely that they will return to your service. With the Agile ERP, delivery date, production status, part information and processing stages are all visible in a searchable and sortable interface.
2. On the Back-end for Service Providers:
- 3YOURMIND’s Agile ERP treats each processing stage as a separate step, from answering requests to preparing quotes to confirm orders, with each one having an accurate pricing structure. As a result, it is easier to allocate responsibility between team members and track parts in different sections of the software for each stage.
- The platform greatly ensures that all communication is transparent, fast, and efficient. Automated order management makes for a smoother order process from the initial negotiation to approval through every stage of production. All communication gets stored in a single location at each stage of the workflow, easily accessible at a later stage.
- Since the Agile ERP automatically generates documentation like quotations, invoices, delivery notes, and shipping documents, it is easy to automate repetitive tasks and keep all team members up-to-date on production. Also, contract manufacturers are able to optimize tasks and free up time to acquire new customers.
- At the same time, instant AM pricing allows for accurate pricing algorithms according to a variety of conditions, including 3D model metadata, machine parameters, support, post-processing, making it easier for customers to determine the price for a custom part.
- It is important to collect the information you need during the ordering process. With custom part requirements, you can define the production and technical specifications you need to receive during the order process to move parts quickly into production, reducing the potential for error.
- The platform also has business analytics, allowing providers to have access to online reporting and detailed data exports so they can make more data-driven decisions.
3. Speaking of Numbers...
The advantages of using Agile ERP for service providers are clear.
- The platform features digitization and data analysis for an optimized production process, reducing the time from project creation to order processing (including quotation and data preparation) by 80%.
- Users can automate a minimum of more than 60% of order process steps and this order automation in and of itself increases AM output by 30-40%.
- The platform is able to replace 2 to 5 applications in conventional AM workflows, letting users offload repeating orders and instead focus on what matters, namely high-value, high-complexity parts.
Initial, a Prodways Group, on Using 3YOURMIND Software
Initial is a high-output 3D printing facility based in Annecy, France. Their recent pivot from prototyping to serial production required a change in workflow.
Adopting 3YOURMIND software has meant not just a tripling of their VIP customer base, but the prediction that Initial will be able to double its production capacity within the next five years.
INITIAL integrated the Agile ERP into their existing production ecosystem by adding intermediary processing steps to match current workflows. They also used the platform to match pricing formulas to their existing calculation methods, all while customizing the checkout procedure to account for their existing long-term purchasing relationships with their customers.
- The workflow was greatly simplified as the platform guided the ordering process for their customers. Additionally, the company could have greater peace of mind since the 3YOURMIND platform guarantees file accuracy and guides the ordering process for customers. The order intake happened immediately, leaving the process more streamlined for everyone involved.
- INITIAL was able to provide shorter lead times across their own production. All project documentation and cost tracking are maintained in the 3YOURMIND platform and then available to export into the global Prodways ERP system.
- Ultimately, faster ordering access meant that their engineers were able to prototype and iterate quickly at the design phase from distributed development centers across France and around the world.