As I search through Twitter trying to get a feel for the latest needs and wants of manufacturing companies it becomes apparent that 3D printing is quickly becoming a hot topic. At first thought, I figured this was just because it was a futuristic idea that could produce today's manufactured parts in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost in 20 years. Oh how wrong I was. In fact, a model can now be had for less than $1500 (see Carbon 3D video below) and has begun being used in manufacturing companies for the development of prototypes.
What exactly is 3D printing and how will it affect the manufacturing process?
3D printing is the ability to send part specific information to a machine and that machine produces (prints) out the part in three dimensions to exact specifications. Currently this technology is mainly being used by manufacturers to print out small items such as poker chips, certain screws and bolts and various other smaller in stature items. However, advanced in 3D printing technology are growing by leaps and bounds and an example of this is a chinese businessman who has begun 3D printing houses in less than 24 hours.
3D printing will change the landscape of not only manufacturing companies but distributors and retail stores as well. For example, I own a one-piece Kohler toilet that recently needed the seat's anchor and screws replaced. This particular toilet is not common nor is it found in traditional stores, and after trying to find the proper parts locally I gave in and just ordered them directly from Kohler. In the not too distant future when 3D printing is more readily available I may only have to go to a hardware store that is a licensed 3D printer of Kohler parts and this particular store can 3D print me out my exact parts while I wait.
How does this affect Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software?
Well to start with all 3D printers will have to integrated into the ERP software. Anthony Bourne wrote:
Part serialization will become more important than ever because 3D printing will bring new risks for intellectual property. Today, it is true that any competitor or other organization can reverse engineer one of your products. But with 3D printing, that product or part can be replicated much more rapidly since there is no need to develop tools, dies, fixtures, jigs, etc. The are a few implications to consider here. It will be difficult to determine whether you are purchasing genuine replacement parts for industrial equipment. And equipment manufacturers may have a harder time determining equipment they have sold to customers uses genuine parts and is therefore under warranty or not. So the type of serialization functionality normally associated with highly-regulated industries like aerospace and defense and medical devices may be attractive to industry at large (Anthony Bourne).
All manufacturers using 3D printing will need process manufacturing software in their ERP application. 3D printing constitutes process manufacturing. You are taking specific alloys or materials and combining them through a process that may involve heat or other chemical reactions in order to create something new. So even if you think of yourself as a discrete manufacturer, you will become a process manufacturer as well if you engage in 3D printing (Anthony Bourne).
It will be more important than ever to maintain records of the chemical components and constituents that each SKU or part is made of. And while inventory for spare parts may be reduced, an enterprise application will need sufficient forecasting functionality to determine the amount of raw materials will be consumed over a given period, and how much usage the 3D printer will receive (Anthony Bourne).
The 3D printer will need to be set up as a workstation in ERP, with elements of enterprise asset management (EAM) present to ensure consistent maintenance has been performed on it. You will also need to be able to facilitate regular quality checks of parts produced so you can determine that they conform to specifications and functional requirements (Anthony Bourne).
As time goes on and just like any other new technology as 3D printing become more prevalent it will most likely affect more parts throughout a business.
How long do you think it will be before most manufacturing companies adopt some sort of 3D printing capabilities? Comment below