Daimler, Materialise, CNH, Stratasys, and the German Navy will discuss the use of 3D printing in the supply chain at the AM Forum Berlin 2023.

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Transforming Supply Chains: The Evolving Role of 3D Printing

The potential of 3D printing to revolutionize supply chains has long been discussed, with promises of decentralized spare part production, reduced storage costs, and improved control over the entire supply chain. However, what if these benefits are not just futuristic concepts, but current realities? This was a key topic of discussion during the 2023 AM Forum in Berlin, where industry leaders from Daimler, Materialise, CNH, Stratasys, and the German Navy explored the future of 3D printing in supply chains.

In today’s global supply chain landscape, businesses are facing numerous challenges, from port bottlenecks and truck breakdowns to manufacturing stoppages caused by part shortages. These hurdles have prompted companies to seek resilient and efficient alternatives. Matthias Schmid, Chief Digital Officer of the Centre of Competence for Additive Manufacturing at Daimler Truck AG, shed light on how Daimler is embracing 3D printing as an integral part of its supply chain strategy.

Schmid emphasized the importance of streamlining supply chains, stating, “As a global company, we have faced numerous crises that significantly impacted our supply chains. In response, we analyzed our supply chains and questioned whether we could reduce the number of involved parties to the absolute minimum.” This led to Daimler’s focus on digitizing their value chain, emphasizing the need to digitize everything that can be digitized.

Daimler’s journey into 3D printing has shown promising results. Out of their portfolio of approximately 320,000 spare parts, they have identified 40,000 as suitable for 3D printing. Currently, they have over 1,500 digitalized parts available in their digital warehouse, allowing for on-demand production. The selection process for parts suitable for 3D printing initially considered simple geometries and raw material compatibility. Schmid mentioned the possibility of using artificial intelligence to automate the selection process.

While additive manufacturing offers significant benefits such as reduced costs, shorter lead times, and a smaller carbon footprint, Schmid cautioned against focusing solely on the purchasing power costs. He highlighted the importance of comparing the real costs associated with the transition from physical to digital storage. At Daimler, this transition resulted in significant savings in the seven-digit range.

Managing the distribution of digital rights for 3D printed parts is also crucial. Daimler has developed digital rights management (DRM) protocols to prevent unauthorized reproductions. However, the effectiveness of DRM depends on the willingness of 3D printer manufacturers to provide access to their machines.

Hanne Gielis, Innovation Manager at Materialise, and Peter Ommeslag, Director – Industry 4.0 Global Program Lead at CNH Industrial, shared insights from their companies’ collaborative journey towards additive manufacturing innovation. CNH Industrial, a multinational producer of agricultural equipment and heavy machinery, prioritizes sustainability in the face of challenges like population growth and decreasing arable land.

Ommeslag stressed the importance of strategic questions when implementing an additive manufacturing program. By answering critical questions about objectives and vision, CNH Industrial identified four primary goals: agility in the face of global disruptions, cost management, a keen focus on sustainability, and streamlined supply chains.

As companies worldwide strive to future-proof their supply chains, the shift from physical to digital operations holds significant potential. The transformative power of 3D printing is not limited to reducing costs and lead times; it also enables businesses to become more resilient and environmentally sustainable.

The integration of 3D printing into supply chains is an ongoing process that requires time and effort, but the benefits are undeniable. With the collaboration of industry leaders and a strategic approach, the potential of 3D printing to transform logistics and supply chains is becoming a reality.

[Photo by Michael Petch]

Revolutionizing Supply Chains: How 3D Printing is Changing the Game

In today’s fast-paced world, industries are constantly searching for innovative approaches to address changing customer needs and contribute to environmental sustainability. One industry that has embraced this challenge head-on is manufacturing, specifically CNH Industrial and the German Navy.

CNH Industrial has adopted an ingenious strategy called “additive manufacturing twin.” This strategy involves building an enhanced copy of each part in their database optimized for 3D printing. By doing so, CNH can easily switch from traditional to additive manufacturing whenever necessary. But how do they determine which parts should undergo this transformation? According to Ommeslag, they simply ask the manufacturing planning team to provide them with the list of parts that keep them awake at night. These stress-inducing components become the prime candidates for a 3D printed overhaul.

This additive manufacturing approach has proven particularly beneficial in producing spare parts for older equipment that may be challenging to procure through conventional means. Ommeslag revealed that CNH already has hundreds of parts exclusively 3D printed in their catalog. Moreover, in urgent scenarios such as field breakdowns, 3D printing can be deployed quickly to alleviate the inconvenience of low inventory or geographical disparities. Ommeslag emphasized that such scenarios happen regularly, highlighting the essential role 3D printing plays within CNH Industrial’s operations.

The German Navy has also recognized the value of 3D printing in overcoming supply chain challenges. Sascha Hartig, Coordinator of Additive Manufacturing at the German Navy, shared their experience of dealing with disruptions in their supply chains. The Navy, heavily reliant on reliable supply chains for operational readiness, has faced increased logistic challenges due to supply chain issues. However, additive manufacturing has proven to be a valuable tool in resolving these issues, especially for producing low-quantity, high-need items and obsolete parts.

Hartig recounted an anecdote where an unattainable plastic bracket for the main engine stop button of an auxiliary ship was quickly designed and printed using additive manufacturing. The entire process took only 20 minutes, effectively solving the problem that had persisted for years. While the Navy has encountered conservative mindsets resistant to change, especially among those accustomed to traditional processes, there is a growing faction of younger personnel embracing additive manufacturing as a problem-solving solution. Striking the right balance between these perspectives remains a challenge for the German Navy, but integrating a 3D printer onboard a submarine has been a significant victory in changing minds and showcasing the utility of additive manufacturing.

However, scaling up the adoption of additive manufacturing is not without its hurdles. Martin Back, Managing Director at BASF Forward AM, highlighted the hesitance among industries to adopt additive manufacturing on a larger scale. This hesitance stems from concerns about technology readiness, the ecosystem of traditional norms and design criteria, and the challenges companies face when tackling all these issues simultaneously. Back stressed the importance of closer collaboration between industrial partners, material properties experts, and processing experts. He believes that the buyer-seller process should evolve into a more collaborative effort.

Rainer Grünauer, Director of Specialized Sales and Application Team at TRUMPF Laser- und Systemtechnik, emphasized the need to inspire young engineers to take an interest in additive manufacturing. He shared that it took his company about seven years to successfully implement additive manufacturing, with dozens of ongoing projects. However, he acknowledged that changing mindsets takes time. Andreas Langfeld, President EMEA at Stratasys GmbH, proposed a paradigm shift in education to accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing. He urged working with the education sector to incorporate additive manufacturing into the curriculum, referring to those proficient in additive manufacturing as “additive natives,” similar to digital natives.

The stories of CNH Industrial and the German Navy demonstrate the transformative power of additive manufacturing in revolutionizing supply chains. It enables rapid production of spare parts, addresses supply chain disruptions, and offers solutions for low-quantity, high-need items. However, scaling up the adoption of additive manufacturing requires industry-wide collaboration, a shift in mindsets, and an increased focus on education. With the potential to overhaul traditional manufacturing processes, additive manufacturing is paving the way for a more sustainable and responsive future.

A Bold Approach to Expediting the Adoption of Additive Manufacturing

The world is changing rapidly, and with it, the face of engineering. The emergence of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has revolutionized the way we create and produce goods. As this technology becomes more widespread, organizations are looking to the new generation of engineers, who have grown up with additive manufacturing as a regular part of their training, to expedite the adoption of these new production methods. However, is this strategy fast enough?

While the educational shift towards additive manufacturing may provide a long-term solution, other nations are not waiting. A striking comparison was made by Martin Back, the Managing Director of BASF Forward AM, who highlighted China’s proactive approach to adopting modern technologies. Chinese factories are swiftly embracing additive manufacturing, leaving other nations in their wake. So, how can we catch up?

One CEO, Marc Fette of Composite Technology Center (CTC GmbH), believes that a different, possibly more daring approach is required. CTC has fully integrated additive manufacturing into its operations, driving innovation not only within the company but also across the aerospace supply chain. Fette emphasizes the need for internal change and flexibility to thrive in this rapidly evolving industry.

Rainer Grünauer, the Director of Application and Consulting at TRUMPF Laser- und Systemtechnik, acknowledges the hesitation within traditional engineering to shift away from the highest quality benchmarks. However, he warns that this reluctance could lead to stagnation, urging engineers and organizations to embrace innovation and take risks. Grünauer likens the adoption of new technologies, like additive manufacturing, to a captain steering a ship into strong waters – it may be daunting, but it is necessary for progress.

When asked about the pace of additive manufacturing adoption worldwide, Grünauer highlights the contrasting mindsets of different regions. He notes America’s “try it and see what happens” attitude and China’s strong government backing as factors propelling the growth of additive manufacturing in those areas. On the other hand, Europe’s more cautious approach may be slowing progress. This observation is echoed by Sven Krause, the AM Forum Berlin moderator, who draws attention to the strides made by Korean electric vehicle manufacturers. The underlying message is clear – European industry must become more willing to take risks if it wants to keep up with the changing times.

It is evident that a bold approach is required to expedite the adoption of additive manufacturing. The new generation of engineers, who are well-versed in this technology, will play a crucial role. However, organizations must be open to internal change, drive innovation in their respective industries, and cultivate a mindset that embraces risk and innovation. The pace of adoption must accelerate if we want to stay competitive in the global market.

Stay tuned for part two of our exploration into how 3D printing is revolutionizing the supply chain. Additionally, don’t forget to nominate for the 2023 3D Printing Industry Awards to help select this year’s winners. Together, we can shape the future of engineering and manufacturing.

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