On-Demand Manufacturing Reduces Risk, Strengthens Supply Chain

New, technology-enabled manufacturing processes, often referred to as digital manufacturing, are not only producing prototype parts faster but also quick-turn, low-volume production parts.

The product development cycle, with all its complexities, provides ample opportunity for risk reduction and cost savings. New technology-enabled manufacturing processes, often referred to as digital manufacturing, not only are producing prototype parts faster, but also are producing quick-turn, low-volume production parts.

Here’s a quick look at a few digital manufacturing alternatives for companies that want to develop new products faster and establish a more resilient supply chain.

Request for Quote
At every stage in the product life cycle, there is the non-value-added task of requesting and receiving quotations from suppliers—adding up to weeks or months to development. Issues that arise during production can be avoided with automated quoting and design analysis.

Alternative: Through software and automated manufacturing processes, interactive online quotes with manufacturability analysis are now made possible within hours and will flag any manufacturability issues before production begins.

“New tech-enabled digital manufacturing processes not only are producing prototype parts faster, but also are producing quick-turn, low-volume production parts.”

Advantage: Days, even weeks, saved during the design phase can accumulate to a month or more over the entire project and ultimately reduce the risk of redesign and associated costs.

Rapid Prototyping
Throughout the product development process, several physical prototypes are required to test functionality, form and fit, and manufacturability. With each iteration, more time is added to the project and can lead to production delays.

Alternative: 3D printing expedites delivery of models and prototypes. Used in lieu of, or in conjunction with, conventional manufacturing practices like quick-turn CNC machining, 3D printing may reduce lead times by 50 percent to 80 percent.

Advantage: By leveraging expedited processes, companies can execute prototype evaluations without inducing delays during the product development process, which protects from even larger delays during the production phase.

Pilot Production
Usually consisting of 1,000 to 5,000 units, pilot production is used to market test a product, validate design, and fine-tune processes, further reducing risk before full-scale launch.

Alternative: While it’s ideal to match all characteristics of production products, close approximations are often acceptable. This flexibility allows the substitution of processes to accelerate delivery while minimizing costs. For example, CNC machining or 3D printing may be used for parts that will ultimately be molded. Additionally, aluminum tooling can cost-effectively produce molded parts at low-volumes.

Advantage: Pilot production defers the investment in production equipment, including tooling, while accelerating the delivery of production-grade products. This allows a thorough analysis prior to investing in capital or operational assets.

Bridge Tooling
Bridge tooling is a stopgap solution that mitigates the impact of long lead times for production orders. The intent is to deliver production-grade parts while production tooling and processes are in development.

Alternative: Ideally, the same process as that for production will be used, but with more cost-effective assets. For example, soft tooling that minimizes complexity and expedites construction to reduce lead times. In this case, tooling will likely forgo high-end automation and cycle-time acceleration features in favor of faster lead times and reduced costs.

Advantage: Bridge tooling suppliers, due to their rapid response, are capable of absorbing upstream delays or unanticipated production delays to preserve delivery schedules. By producing the quantity of parts needed for the duration of the delay, companies preserve production schedules.

For more information on how digital manufacturing can aid in supply chain management and product development, read our white paper, “Reducing Risk through On-Demand Manufacturing.”


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