How 3D printing can speed procurement

We live in an ever-faster world of shrinking time-to-market, same-day deliveries and instant gratification. It’s time our manufacturing systems caught up.

Today’s ERP systems support traditional manufacturing and procurement workflows, which take days if not weeks to get products to you. What if a worker could order a product and 3D-print it on the spot?

3D printing, around for over 30 years, is picking up steam for several reasons: expiration of key patents; improvements in speed, resolution and ease of use by the open source community; and innovations in materials, support structures and continuous production. All this will bring 3D printing into main line production systems as part of distributed manufacturing.

DXC Labs is working on a proof-of-concept to integrate 3D printing into ERP systems. The system would provide information on the technical and economical feasibility of 3D printing a particular product compared to traditional manufacturing. Based on this information, a procurement specialist could make an informed decision to either 3D print or use traditional manufacturing.

3D printing is best suited for:

  • Rapid Prototyping — Go from design to finished product in one step compared to multiple steps in traditional manufacturing, and with less materials waste. Eliminate investment in manufacturing equipment since you can print a production-ready prototype without jigs, molds or tooling.
  • Custom or Obsolete Products and Small Quantities — Eliminate fixed costs like tooling and molds due to the single-step process of 3D manufacturing, though material costs may be higher. Shipping costs are eliminated since products can be printed on site. Labor costs are almost zero.

In contrast, traditional manufacturing is the right choice for high-volume and high-speed needs, some large-scale parts, and products whose materials don’t lend themselves to 3D printing.

If you decide to 3D print based on the assessment, here’s how it would work in our proposed system:

  • Go to the digital warehouse to see if the product in your Purchase Order (P.O.) has a digital model (required for 3D printing). If it does, click “print” and you are done.
  • If there is no digital model, as is often the case with rapid prototyping, you must upload the model (file).
  • The system analyzes and prepares the file for printability, converting it to G-code, a numerical control programming language that 3D printers and computerized machine tools understand.
  • The system runs the G-code through a simulator to identify any errors in the tool path. (Errors must be fixed manually and the code converted and simulated again.)
  • The system uploads the finished file to the 3D printer’s host for printing. When printing is complete, the ERP system is notified and continues processing the order.

Our proof-of-concept will automate these processes, as highlighted in the figure below.

Click image to expand.

In essence, the ERP system handles the product request, quote request, P.O. and delivery per the P.O. instructions. Along the way, our proof-of-concept system handles the 3D printing functions, which will be an extension to these ERP functions.

I’ll share the proof-of-concept progress in my next blog post.


Baskar Venugopalan, associate director at DXC Labs, is a technology enthusiast currently focused on 3D printing. As a lead technologist, Baskar has worked in the cloud and big data areas, with emphasis on technology adoption. He has led incubators, as well as teams of senior technologists and architects in the past. Based in Bengaluru, India, Baskar’s three decades of experience include working with multinationals like Microsoft and Oracle. @venugbx 

 

RELATED LINKS

3D printers start to build factories of the future

Digital disruption: How to become a 21st century organisation

 

Comments

  1. Interesting. Being able to get items 3D printed (manufactured) on the fly from the digital catalog. And more interestingly being able to add to the digital catalogue and verify if the item is 3D printable. Can see numerous applications for this. Await further updates.

    Like

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