Why An Additive Manufacturer Is A Unique Machine Shop

    Elmar Karlowitsch
    August 25, 2016

    Technology is continually transforming the way we live and work. Since the foundational concepts of additive manufacturing (AM) were developed approximately thirty years ago, this innovative concept has grown, and is rapidly revolutionizing the production industry. Unimagined processes have become a reality, and companies in aerospace, health, and automotive industries are benefiting from the possibilities. From rapid prototyping to laser engraved net shaping and laminated object manufacturing, this highly specific form of production presents a variety of incredible opportunities.

    AM is essentially a very unique type of machine shop production. As such, it forms an integral part of the supply chain, and faces many of the same scheduling challenges associated with traditional machine shop production. Because it allows for unlimited customization and weight-strength optimization, it addresses two important aspects particularly associated with small batch fabrication; and more and more companies are investing in the required machinery. However, trying to maintain your additive manufacturing schedule using manual spreadsheets is almost an operation in futility.   

    Machine Shop Similarities  

    Your customers rely on having their orders arrive according to their production schedule, and late deliveries can spell disaster for customer relations. Likewise, made-to-order parts, components, and prototypes are characterized by constant change. Operating schedules must be able to adapt swiftly to last-minute alterations, in order to avoid costly delays.

    pixabay_printer-1455169_1920.jpgHowever, when scheduling in an AM environment, there is an extra technological step involved in rapid prototyping, 3D Printing, and similar industry 4.0 processes. The transition from CAD design to an STL (Standard Tessellation Language) file must be accounted for, in addition to your standard preventative maintenance (PM) tasks, labor and equipment schedules. Depending on the type of production required, you may also need to integrate logical dependencies; but mainly, you’ll need to embrace the volatility that accompanies design-driven manufacturing processes.    

    Understanding how to merge these advanced technologies with practical scheduling solutions will help your operation improve its overall delivery performance and foster maximum efficiency.

    Batch Size: 1

    Even the machinery used in the most advanced additive production process is still very much in the early stages of development. Consider the difference between early assembly line equipment as compared with today’s precision electronics. Therefore, at this stage in its development, the machinery is capital intensive to own and operate. Although it’s natural to assume that the equipment used to perform additive manufacturing processes will continue to advance, companies who operate current models must deal with a variety of scheduling challenged, including:

    • Unexpected Equipment Malfunctions and Failures. Break downs and operational issues typically require specialized maintenance tactics to resolve them. You must first determine if the problem is network related or whether it involves a mechanical issue, and then deploy your repairs. Unscheduled down-time isn’t an option for most companies, whose customers are depending on on-time deliveries.   
    • Customer Changes and Rush Order Requests. As is frequently the case with small batch machine shop processing, last minute changes to the design or the concept can totally wreck your carefully planned schedule. As an additive manufacturer, you need tools that will enable swift, real-time access to all the operating machinery and available manpower, in conjunction with your customer information and latest requests.

    Essentially, the only thing that is reasonably constant is the constant changes you must face, which characterize small batch manufacturing.

    Orchestrating Answers

    Machine shop scheduling software has evolved over the last few years. By using highly intuitive, visual scheduling systems that support speedy user access and manual manipulation, additive manufacturers can benefit by the technology developed specifically for small batch production. Effectively control your productivity with features that include:

    • Highly Visual and Logic-Based Planning—instantly assess all of your resources, their capabilities, and provide schedulers with the information that will allow immediate, best practice decisions concerning floor operations.
    • Automated Scheduling Tools that Permit Continual Changes—your schedulers should be able to arrange production according to your equipment requirements, quickly and easily. “What if” scenarios allow you to eliminate inaccuracies and time wastes.
    • Flawless Interoperability—with additive manufacturing, the additional, dependent information must be transferred without a hitch, and your scheduling system should be able to integrate other management systems, so that you gain visibility into inventories, labor and equipment requirements for each order.

    Industry 4.0 processes will continue to evolve. However, you can ensure that your additive manufacturing business operates at optimum efficiency by approaching your scheduling needs with targeted software that is designed to eliminate the challenges you face.

    Your next step

    If you are an additive manufacturer and seek for some scheduling insights, you might want to download our free Ebook: "A comprehensive introduction into machine shop scheduling".

    Get free Ebook Introduction to Machine Shop Scheduling


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