Supply chain ‘makeovers’ powered by 3D printing


Fabrizio Legrenzi, EMEA business operations manager at Markforged discusses the role of additive manufacturing when it comes to countering supply chain challenges.

Supply chain disruptions continue to rock the world of manufacturing, presenting real threats to productivity and having a huge impact on the bottom line of many businesses. From semiconductors and medical supply shortages to the surging costs of building materials and consumer goods – logistical issues and fluctuating, unpredictable prices are causing massive disruption to businesses of all types and sizes around the world.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the traditional manufacturing model of build, ship, and receive is no longer fit for purpose in the current climate, which experts agree isn’t going away any time soon. Add to this the well-documented global labour and skills shortages and you have the perfect storm.

Time for a new approach (supply chain-gers)

Engineers and manufacturers are finding themselves in the unexpected role of supply chain experts. They are turning to technology to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, to tackle these issues head on and to build more resilient supply chains. Additive Manufacturing (AM) is one example of this technology.

Adopting an AM cloud-enabled distribution model means manufacturing businesses can ‘de-risk’ their supply chains and bypass many of the related challenges by printing the right parts on demand, directly at the point of need.  And for parts that must be machined, using an AM system for rapid functional prototyping helps engineers ensure that when the machined part is finally received months later, it will work as expected.

We have witnessed real creativity and heard amazing stories of innovation from these ‘supply chain-gers’ to solve supply chain issues and boost productivity. Here we outline some of these real-life success stories… 

Clenaware - removing long lead times, and becoming reliant on 3D printing 

Northamptonshire-based Clenaware Systems manufactures industrial warewashing equipment including glass and dishwashers, thermal disinfectant washers, and glass dryers. Their products have earned them the reputation of a high quality British manufacturer and can be found in restaurants, pubs, clubs, and medical facilities across the UK and beyond. 

3D printing has allowed Clenaware to restructure their business, dramatically reduce lead times on part production and virtually eliminate tooling costs. Instead of facing supply chain shortages and delays, Clenaware can now print small batch parts for their machines on demand.

“Thanks to 3D printing we can now operate in a just in time environment. We no longer need to order parts and store large volumes of them,” said Richard Harris, Managing Director at Clenaware. “3D printing allows us to manage production for efficiency giving us the flexibility to print parts 24/7. It removes the whole lifecycle of procuring parts, saving us valuable time by eliminating the need to source suppliers, coordinate invoicing and wait for deliveries. It is simple to use. You tell the printer what to do and it gets on with it. It just works.”

Clenaware initially ear-marked more than 100 parts as potential candidates for 3D printing, including ones that could easily be shipped to their end customers. Today, Clenaware uses 11 printers and approximately 75% of the parts on their new improved Airack™ Glass Dryer are being 3D printed using Markforged technology. 

This approach allows them to circumvent delays and discontinued parts – to keep things moving, the team can reverse engineer or design and print discontinued off the shelf or missing parts themselves. “The value of 3D printing is really about the time and flexibility it gives us,” concluded Harris. 

Vestas – countering supplier delivery and installation delays

Vestas is a global leader in wind energy. With +151 Gigawatts (GW) of wind turbines in 86 countries, they are installing more wind power than any competitor. The company depends on numerous inspection gauges at its manufacturing facilities and installation sites to ensure minimal downtime of the turbines. These critical tools have traditionally been sourced from multiple vendors around the world based on detailed manufacturing instructions. The finished parts would be sent to the various Vestas sites, inspected for compliance, and — once approved — put to use. Unfortunately, some of the final parts supplied by local manufacturers were not 100% to spec and did not pass final inspection. This resulted in final product delivery and installation delays. 

Jeremy Haight, Principal Engineer, Additive Manufacturing & Advanced Concepts at Vestas: “We selected Markforged because they were the most capable of providing the end-to-end solution we needed to achieve our vision of direct digital manufacturing (DDM).”

Using Markforged’s cloud-based, AI-powered Digital Forge additive manufacturing platform, Vestas successfully launched its DDM programme in 2021. The programme frees up manufacturing processes from relying on outside suppliers and provides a knowledge base for collaboration. The Vestas team no longer has to worry about these or any other parts failing compliance tests because they are printed on-demand and in-house using exact digital specifications. 

They’ve also achieved an average part cost saving of 88.65% and reduced engineering innovation cycle times. DDM also allows them to iterate through design and test cycles faster to get the right parts out into the processes faster, to improve production efficiency, product quality and safety.

Better functioning supply chains

When faced with ever-changing supply chain challenges, Additive manufacturing continues to drive innovation in manufacturing in new and unexpected ways. In their new role as ‘supply chain-gers’ engineers and manufacturers are harnessing the design freedom and agility of the technology to work around delays and reduce costs and lead times - helping to improve the flow of supply chains, keep business moving and the manufacturing industry thriving.

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