2016 Smart Manufacturing Summit: Solutions Exchange Takeaways and Best Practices


Additive manufacturing can streamline processes and reduce time to market significantly.

While the benefits can be great, before investing in new equipment and soft ware take a hard look at the total expense entailed, factoring in often-overlooked related costs like maintenance and training for the employees who will be running the machines/software.

When negotiating a purchase, require that the manufacturer provide a minimum amount of initial training to get your employees up to speed on the equipment. If investing in 3D equipment is not cost feasible, consider working with a 3D farm, such as those being set up in UPS warehouses. Capabilities vary widely, so shop around for the best technology for your needs. Be aware that additive manufacturing has limitations.

The feasibility of shifting to 3D printing depends partly on materials. For example, additive manufacturing with metals can be cost-prohibitive.

Components manufactured with 3D printing typically require a significant amount of finishing by hand. The technology is not yet appropriate for safety-critical parts of vehicles and machinery.

Robotics and soft ware can replace human labor, increasing efficiency in the process.

3D printing soft ware can enable a job to go all the way from upload to printed product on a factory floor without a human seeing it.

Robots are ideal for processes that would inflict inordinate wear and tear—and potential injury—on the human body, such as repetitive tasks involving awkward lifting. Robotic solutions can save time on an assembly line. For example, robotic positioning of parts on an assembly line can reduce application setup time and tooling costs.

Be sure to budget for reprogramming—every change in your process will require reprogramming your robot—a service your employees or the supplier will need to perform. Effectively implementing these technologies will require recruiting and retaining employees with the right technical skills.

Partnering with community colleges on educational programs tailored to a company’s needs can help address the skills gap, particularly in small rural areas.

Ensuring that college students graduate with the skills you need may necessitate funding the development of curriculum or providing instructors to teach the skills you need.

Smaller companies that may not be able to aff ord to sponsor an educational initiative on their own can team up with industry peers to find common interests and organize an initiative that benefits them all.

Such consortia can also be a path to valuable, low-cost consulting from manufacturing peers who aren’t direct competitors.

Consider donating the equipment you need students to be trained on to the school or going 50-50 with the college on an equipment purchase.

Contact CEOs who have worked with community colleges and universities for counsel on how to get a program up and running.

Facilitator: J.P. Donlon, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

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