Thursday, September 28, 2023

Creating a competitive advantage for US manufacturing

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Bryan Crutchfield is Vice President and General Manager, North America for: materializea world leader in 3D printing.

The possibilities for production and fabrication in today’s society seem endless, with seemingly every product imaginable on the market and supply chains weaving all over the world. However, this complexity is not without its challenges — challenges the Biden administration hopes to address, in part through its recently launched AM Forward Initiative.

AM Forward is a voluntary pact between major US manufacturers and their smaller US-based suppliers, whereby the manufacturers support supplier adoption of new additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing capabilities. Some big names are included in the first participants: GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Siemens Energy.

By promoting AM in small and medium-sized enterprises, the initiative aims to improve the competitiveness of American manufacturers. With support for small and regional manufacturing through access to capital, technical assistance and staff training, AM Forward provides the resources businesses need to both grow and advance their manufacturing technology.

Local, sustainable supply chains

Recent events, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the shortage of semiconductors, have highlighted the fragility of global supply chains. When only one component is held up, backlogs and bottlenecks can develop leading to shortages and high prices for consumers. AM Forward is designed to locate these supply chains for US manufacturers, bring production closer to the customer and protect manufacturers from vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.

Reducing transit time also supports environmental sustainability goals. As global temperatures continue to rise, it becomes increasingly necessary to think about the impact of new and existing manufacturing on the environment. With shorter supply chains and localized manufacturing, we have the opportunity to reduce fossil fuel use, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Both considerations increase the competitive advantage of the United States, as production continues regardless of the state of global supply chains, and consumers and manufacturers increasingly seek companies that prioritize the environment. However, getting started with AM involves much more than replacing a traditional machine with a 3D printer.

Making a difference with AM

To create true value, companies need to understand that AM is fundamentally different from traditional, subtractive production methods. AM isn’t just about changing how they make things – it’s about making a difference through advanced manufacturing. To successfully implement the technology, companies must first understand AM’s strengths, the parts and products best suited for AM, and the designs and processes that can help bring the two together.

AM generally offers the greatest value for custom parts that require a high level of customization or parts that are produced in lower volumes to provide on- or near-demand production for their customers. However, the value of 3D printing goes beyond prototyping and small batch production, as the technology can also be used for batch production in the right applications. Companies that jump into AM without carefully considering the application early on are setting themselves up for failure.

For established manufacturers, this often means adding existing production capabilities rather than replacing them. By understanding where AM thrives compared to traditional manufacturing technologies, manufacturers can efficiently integrate AM into their existing manufacturing environment.

After manufacturers have researched which products are best suited for AM, it is important to conduct experiments to refine both designs and processes. For designers, this means a change of mindset: designing for additive (instead of subtractive) production. By designing for additives, companies can take advantage of some of the unique benefits of AM in their products, from the ability to create more intricate shapes and structures to reducing weight and material usage.

On the process side, manufacturers must explore different material, hardware and software combinations to optimize AM operations and take advantage of the vast possibilities for customization.

Companies that determine the right application, design and process at an early stage can prepare themselves for success by introducing AM into their production. This technology mix allows AM and traditional manufacturing operations to share data on the factory floor, enabling them to communicate effectively in a connected, end-to-end digital workflow.

It will be interesting to watch the interaction between suppliers and manufacturers as the shift to US manufacturing helps support US goals both inside and outside manufacturing. While all technology has its limitations, AM can provide benefits for manufacturers, the supply chain, the environment and consumers. Business Council is the leading growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?

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