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Many companies are currently trying to understand the benefits of digital manufacturing. In this article, we outline the advantages that companies can gain from using Digital Manufacturing in their supply chains. Digital Manufacturing is not a production technology that will suit all enterprises all the time. For some parts and products however, Digital Manufacturing outperforms other technologies and could even enable completely new advantageous business models. We will define digital manufacturing and look at how this could enable on demand, local and customized products. This could, in turn, make companies more competitive.
What is Digital Manufacturing Exactly?
Technologies such as 3D printing, laser cutting and water jetting are production technologies that have digital inputs. A CAD or other 3D file is translated into Gcode which in turn positions the machine to create the part. The combination of going directly from an idea to a 3D model to Gcode to a part made on a digital manufacturing machine is a powerful one. The complete toolchain from file to instructions for the machine is digital. This means that it is frictionless and easy to adapt. Parameters, changes in design, production updates and tracking of the part can instantly be available worldwide. If one also uses 3D scanners and other automated quality measuring equipment, then your inspection and quality control can be digitized as well. The resulting data can be analyzed and spread around an organization or ecosystem.
CityWood’s laser cut maps let you select from a 100 cities. The company could easily expand to many more, they only need to enter new data into their system.
With the digitization of manufacturing companies are bringing flexibility and new efficiencies to manufacturing. Whereas not all things can be manufactured digitally, the things that can be made can be done so efficiently and quickly. Movies used to have to be physically shipped and stored around the world on carriers such as laser disks or film now they are shipped, altered, remixed and created in the ether. Movies fly all around us through the skies, just as music and other data do. Digital manufacturing has the potential to make much of manufacturing as malleable and instantly transportable around the world.
6 Benefits of Digital Manufacturing:
1. Manufacture on demand
Laser cutters and 3D printers can manufacture on demand: one part, with one shape at one moment, in one place. They are ideally suited for small series production or production series of one. This means that stock (or a significant portion of stock) could be a thing of the past. Less of an enterprise’s capital would be tied up in stocks of goods waiting in warehouses to be used. Companies can also have more flexibility to make different products and respond to market demand. This also means that companies have less fashion risk. They no longer have to plan a year ahead to predict what market trends are and plan production numbers accordingly. Instead, firms can get paid first by the customer and then make precisely what they need. This lets them produce at a higher margin with far better terms on them getting and then investing their cash.
2. Produce local
Ministry of Supply is using Shima Seiki digital knitting equipment to on-demand knit tops and jackets in its flagship store.
By reshoring manufacturing activities companies can capture tax, marketing or distribution advantages over peers who manufacture far away. With digital manufacturing, you can produce close to your customer. You can not only manufacture in your country you could also make in the high street itself. Some companies are thinking of knitting sweaters in shops themselves or digitally printing the latest patterns next to the customer.
L’Atelier de Soulier customizes clothing, bags and shoes inside the Bon Marche in Paris. The clothing can also be bought on LVHM’s high-end e-commerce platform 24Sevres.
By manufacturing in a high footfall area, you can directly sell to people by giving them the experience of having bought something made near them.
3. Save the environment
With 3D printing and other digital manufacturing technologies, you make what is needed when it is needed. There is much less waste. By manufacturing close to the consumer goods have to be transported less. Supply chains can be shortened and ultimately should be more efficient for both the manufacturer and the planet.
4. Offer customizable products
A better fit to the consumer can also be had through mass customization. By actually making something that exactly fits your customer they will derive a higher utility from it. A better fitting unique glove will be worn more comfortably. Additionally, people will have more affection for it since it has been made for them.
As each product is produced on demand, there is a lot of freedom in design and personalization.
5. Act fast on new market trends
Digital Manufacturing will also let you be more responsive to changing market conditions. With quick digital design and rapid production small series can be made fast, at low cost. This will let companies meet new trends much faster than those who are planning years ahead. By being more responsive newer and smaller niches can be catered to as well.
6. Be more competitive through digital manufacturing
By producing customized, unique items, locally, using digital supply chains, digital manufacturing can make products that fit the market better. Quickly, at relatively low cost and in an environmentally friendly way goods are made to fit a customer. Through Digital Manufacturing, companies can meet the needs of customers better while charging more. Goods will typically cost more per item than when millions of identical copies are produced. Start-up costs and time to market will be vastly lower, however. For businesses where time to market, uniqueness, stock, custom fit, the environment or local can make huge impacts digital manufacturing can be a very exciting opportunity indeed.