Understanding Rapid Additive Manufacturing with Smart Factories

With design innovation comes an increased need for manufacturing innovation. Traditional manufacturing is limited by tooling, cost, and process limitations– putting constraints on designs and requiring lengthy re-evaluation to adapt the designs for scaling and production. A recent study of 400 manufacturing industry leaders showed that 83% of companies plan to invest in smart factory technology. 

3D printing (or additive manufacturing) digitalizes production by building a more automated, scalable, and streamlined process. Eliminating tooling and redesign efforts shortens the time from design to production and allows greater design freedom. With 3D printing smart factories, companies accelerate the process from prototyping to high volume production. Partnering with a 3D printing smart factory enables access to on-demand production capacity for easy scaling and allows companies to have greater flexibility on where products are manufactured. With more 3D printing smart factories around the world, companies have the option of producing goods locally instead of only using overseas manufacturers.

Manufacturing automated with 3D printing and robotics

What is a smart factory?

A smart factory uses automation and cloud connectivity to make manufacturing more scalable and accurate, and less labor-intensive. A 3D printing smart factory duplicates the success of local prototyping or low volume production to seamlessly increase production capacity. 

What are the benefits of a smart factory?

  • Reduce upfront cost: Traditional manufacturing processes require a significant upfront investment for tooling, redesigns for manufacturability, multiple production evaluations, materials, and labor for assembly if the product is manufactured as multiple parts. Rapid additive manufacturing eliminates tooling costs and reduces redesigns for manufacturability and assembly as more complex designs can be easily printed. It is also much easier to make design changes and 3D print the modified product, enabling companies to respond better to business or market demand. Smart factories have much lower minimum order quantities (MOQs) – as they can produce multiple different products in parallel – allowing low-volume or on-demand production and reducing storage costs. Companies may also choose to set up a localized smart factory versus using offshore manufacturers to reduce tariffs and optimize on taxes.
  • Reduce supply chain risks: Outsourcing to a 3D printing smart factory allows companies to extend supply chains without the risks involved with owning a manufacturing site. Requiring less labor overhead compared to legacy manufacturing processes, 3D printing smart factories can be located in more areas – not limited to regions with low labor costs. Localized production reduces supply chain disruptions from offshore sites and shipping, and streamlines collaboration. 
  • Scalability: Additive manufacturing allows companies to more easily scale production volume. Without tooling limitations, 3D printing eliminates or reduces multiple evaluations and redesigns for manufacturability typical with traditional processes. For low-volume manufacturing, companies have many challenges manufacturing a product with their required specs when outsourcing. The manufacturing process and approach in prototyping can be very different from production, resulting in the final product having different properties. Even a change in orientation in how a product is produced can impact performance. With a 3D printing smart factory, the same machine or process for prototyping can be used for production, increasing control and quality for companies when outsourcing. Companies can reliably produce low-volume products – ‘replicating success’, or easily shift between low-volume and high-volume production to meet fluctuating market demand. Outsourcing to a 3D printing smart factory allows companies to test out multiple SKUs or product variations on the market before considering high volume production. 

What are key 3D printing challenges addressed with a smart factory?

  • Skills and Knowledge Gap: 3D printing requires training and expertise with all digital production components. Partnering with a 3D printing smart factory gives companies access to generative design engineering skills and 3D printing volume production knowhow, and eases the transition of new and established designs to production while bridging skills and knowledge gaps.
  • Data Analysis and Customization Digital Workflow: 3D printing enables optimized designs in both performance and aesthetics. Software in cloud-connected 3D printing smart factories continue to advance, supporting personalized, customized, and elaborate designs with increased geometric complexity, or automatically generating structures to quickly achieve product performance requirements. Smart Factories provide access to software applications that always improve, companies can leverage the latest data analysis technologies and customization digital workflows to build and improve designs and products. 
  • More Materials and Colors: Inventorying a wide range of materials and colors at a site can become costly and may require storage space that may not be readily available. 3D printing smart factories support multiple companies and products. Having different resins and an array of colors readily available makes it easier for companies to cost-effectively offer a variety of products and designs and accelerate their introduction to the market.
  • Testing Equipment Access: Testing equipment can require significant investment. Companies that work with a 3D printing smart factory can have access to a broader range of testing equipment. Enabling lean companies to get from prototype to production, the factories of the future open up opportunities for more companies to innovate and bring their best ideas to market faster. 

What to consider before outsourcing to a smart factory?

Human interface necessary for design optimization

Partnering with a localized 3D printing smart factory includes an in-house team to ensure quality control. All designs also undergo a printability assessment before production. Companies should communicate and sign off on necessary design specs for the final product such as target weight ranges, dimensional accuracy, material properties, and aesthetics – color, surface finish, etc. A smart factory can perform a single print prototype for design validation to approve proposed parameters and an acceptable variance range before production. 

Partner with an industry leader in rapid additive manufacturing 

Automated manufacturing with additive manufacturing increases design freedom across many industries, including consumer-driven markets. Without tooling and less overhead labor outsourcing to a smart factory can accelerate products from design to high volume manufacturing while reducing risk. A cloud-connected 3D printing smart factory can simplify transitioning as well as augment traditional and in-house 3D printing manufacturing capacity, supporting companies as they increase their consumer base.

LuxCreo pioneered the 3D printing Smart Factory. Their cloud-connected 3D printing smart factories will allow you to improve quality with low volume manufacturing and easily scale your production volume and improve design flexibility.

To learn more about transitioning to rapid additive manufacturing with a 3D printing smart factory, visit our contact page or call (650) 336-0888 to learn more.

Smart Factory Team