Production Line Challenges
3D Printing Can Solve
Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D Printing, is not a new concept for the manufacturing sector – it’s already in use by a diverse range of industries for an array of end-use parts. What is new is recognition of the transition AM has made from niche technology to practical production tool. Once limited to the role of rapid prototype design, AM has permeated the broader production process to deliver a range of efficiency and efficacy benefits to help manufacturing enterprises of all sizes.
According to a 2016 report by PwC on key industrial manufacturing trends - which identifies 3D Printing as one of the solutions likely to have the greatest impact on factory environments - it is a development manufacturers are wise to embrace. By taking advantage of the current ‘technical renaissance’, enterprises can ‘improve productivity in their own plants, compete against rivals, and maintain an edge with customers who are seeking their own gains from innovation.”
Here, we take a look at how these benefits apply to the heart of manufacturing - production lines – by identifying five common challenges that AM can help solve.
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A Component In Our Production Line Is Regularly Failing
Wear caused by constant throughput, temperature-induced stress, weak weld-points and multi-component mechanisms, are all factors that can result in mission critical production line parts, like grippers, suction pads or jigs, becoming compromised (often leading to product quality issues - see section 2 ) or failing completely. Resulting unscheduled downtime while a repair is arranged and carried out can be both costly and frustrating.
3D Printing a part to a different design specification that reduces the number of individual components required, strengthens structures prone to breakage, or changes surface topography, could significantly reduce failure rates. AM offers the greatest benefit when it is applied in a ‘value added’ redesign context such as this.
Additionally, 3D printing key production line parts also mitigates against supply chain risk i.e. low availability from OEMs, and significantly reduces turnaround times for MRO (maintenance, repair, operations) parts. This also avoids having to bulk order replacements which can be costly to store. Instead, a lower volume/greater variety of AM parts can be printed and kept on site.
We Need To Reduce Our Cycle Times
In a competitive global economy where consumers demand low cost, high quality and often highly differentiated goods, improving product development and production cycles (PC) to reduce time to market has become a universal manufacturing ambition.
Maximising production line efficiency is essential. This paper has already highlighted important and highly relevant AM benefits in terms of achieving this ambition. Adaptable equipment/assembly components that accommodate evolving product ranges, and short-run/low-lead time 3D-printed replacement parts that dramatically reduce downtime, are highly applicable.
Arguably however, AM is most significant in terms of its potential to address and enhance the ergonomics of components. The fact that clamps, jigs, mounts, grippers, and nozzle can be re-imagined and re-developed from a wider range of materials to be lighter, easier to handle, more durable and ultimately quicker to deploy, has major implications for keeping production cycles lean.
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