Embracing Resilience in Supply Chain Management: The Role of 3D Scanning

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The week following Thanksgiving, the Biden administration gave the world significant insights into its planned activities for 2024, apart from Biden’s reelection campaign. The administration unveiled the creation of a Council on Supply Chain Resilience, co-led by the National Security Advisor and National Economic Advisor, and comprising almost all heads of cabinet-level agencies.

This decision has the potential to dramatically shift the US’s advanced manufacturing scenario, specifically impacting the additive manufacturing (AM) industry due to its comparatively mature technological stance vis-a-vis other Industry 4.0 areas. The opportunity for AM to become entrenched in the upcoming wave of industrial policy could only be limited by the viable use-case prototypes that sector enterprises can conceive, propose, and establish partnerships around for implementation, both among themselves and with the government.

Industry professionals should commence working on crafting wide-ranging, practical solutions for incorporating AM across entire organizations. The starting point may not necessarily involve printer focus or material input requirements, but rather enhancing the capability to recognize, document, and scrutinize potential 3D printed components.

The initiation of this whole process could be with 3D scanners. I gained insights from Sergey Sukhovey, the co-founder and head of experience at one of the world’s top 3D scanner brands, Artec 3D, on how an organization’s 3D scanning potentials can significantly boost the resilience of its supply chains.

Artec 3D understands supply chain resilience intimately, having initiated a move of part of its operations in the initial week of the Ukraine invasion. Although merely the R&D department of Artec 3D was affected — the company’s production occurs in Luxembourg and the U.S. — this transition presented the firm with a firsthand understanding of the current period’s disruptions.

Artec 3D scanners are extensively employed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). AST2, an authorized Artec 3D reseller, states that most of their clients are DoD agencies who use Artec scanners for innovation, rapid prototyping, and reverse engineering to meet national defense demands.

In the context of the DoD’s pivotal role in spurring and shaping the U.S. government’s drive to boost domestic advanced manufacturing capacities toward achieving supply chain resilience, corporations being in sync with Artec 3D might expedite their strategies to gain from, and contribute to, the evolving industrial policy framework:

“Companies can use 3D scanners to optimize the reverse-engineering manufacturing process and enhance quality inspection for swifter and more precise ways of ensuring product standards at every step, thus accelerating production lines,” Sukhovey described. “The use of 3D scanners reduces human involvement, which decreases potential errors that could inevitably happen with manual measurements. Plus, when the initial 3D data is captured and stored, it could be scrutinized and validated by other team members. This boosts efficiency and ensures that the source data is always accessible for reference. Access to such data also encourages the distribution of expertise among different people.

“Another way 3D scanning can back the supply chain is by monitoring and tracking shipments to thwart loss and damage. This can be achieved by scanning exports to verify quantity and detecting product defects at various manufacturing and shipping stages.”

Creating digital repositories inherently involves a proactive approach as a means for companies and organizations to fortify their supply chains. Advanced manufacturing companies, in particular, are finding workforce development to be a necessary proactive measure. In this regard, 3D scanning appears to be an optimal skill set to build said strategies around:

“3D handheld scanner training requires minimal effort, and once staff are trained, labor hours are reduced. In hard-to-reach areas, this translates into shorter repair cycles when 3D scanners are used together with 3D printers. Take ships equipped with 3D printers, for instance, they can conduct speedy checks and repairs on the spot, eliminating the need to dock and waste time. Including 3D scanning in their risk assessment and upkeep plan can ensure companies are consistently assessing quality and are poised to tackle issues as soon as they arise, which prevents more severe problems down the line.”

Sukhovey further hints at the notion that, while the pandemic indeed drew global attention to supply chain difficulties, these troubles were already brewing even before COVID-19 surfaced. The spread of the virus merely amplified these pre-existing tensions:

“Pre-COVID, disruptions were not widely acknowledged, but many felt their presence and the need for critical changes. For instance, micro-electronics producers formerly sustained products for more extended periods before discontinuing them, permitting manufacturers to make purchasing decisions at a slower pace. But financial habit alterations leading up to COVID started tilting towards reduced lead time before discontinuation, expecting purchasers to readily adapt to these changes. This shift resulted in a need to stockpile essential components in advance to circumvent supply chain disruptions driven by increased parts delivery lead times.”

“In the post-COVID era, these already extended lead times have elongated further. Aside from this, we’re seeing a departure from total dependence on foreign imports towards acknowledging the need for domestic manufacturing autonomy. The U.S., in particular, is looking to reduce its dependence on Chinese imports while boosting its domestic manufacturing capability – not only for local consumption but also for exporting purposes. Identifying and securing the supply of crucial components a company relies on to build resilience against unforeseen risks and threats has now become more critical than ever.”

This sums up why, even as disruptions resulting from the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have started to subside somewhat, the White House has only just begun to ramp up U.S. efforts to reshore the industrial base. As much as global supply chains have been thrown into disarray by the major events thus far in the first half of the 2020s, these initial challenges seem like mere precursors to much more fundamental shifts ahead.

Unsurprisingly, then, the precedents set by the U.S. and China to shore up their domestic advanced manufacturing capabilities are mirrored in all of the other most highly industrialized nations around the world. As the institutional transformations begin to set in, don’t be surprised if the already sizable financial backing behind those changes escalates much further:

As Sukhovey simply put it, “Financial support always helps. The production of chips, to name one example, is nothing if not capital-intensive, so government support of businesses that can bring manufacture of high-tech industrial parts into the domestic economy is key. Thus, even aside from direct support, ensuring the existence of adequate local infrastructure is another way governments can help. For example, the Luxembourg government has invested heavily in a huge data center — a large facility with ample processing power and storage which enables and encourages tech companies to operate and thrive. In turn, networking is always a great way for companies to put themselves in the best position to succeed. At Artec 3D’s opening of a new production facility earlier this year, former Luxembourg Prime Minster Havier Bettel and Minister of Economy Franz Fayot both attended. This encouraged the success of the opening, and their presence demonstrated a significant endorsement of the company and the new facility, which greatly helps to draw awareness to the cause.”

A whole new era of industrial policy has emerged, and we are just beginning to understand the implications. Grasping the nature of the change is overwhelming, but as Artec 3D illustrates, now is always the best time to start thinking about how to approach the future.

Images courtesy of Artec 3D

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