The Uptime Blog
A new production method is shaking up the manufacturing industry for good. MIT Technology Review calls it one of the top 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013. Additive Manufacturing – the latest breakthrough technology – is redefining how producers compete in a global industrialized economy.
A Brief History of Additive Manufacturing
At its core, Additive Manufacturing is based on 3D printing technology. And while it all seems to be shiny and new, 3D printing has actually been around for a while – since the late 1980’s. “… [I]n fact, 3-D printing has been slowly evolving in labs and in the market since Chuck Hall invented stereolithography back in 1986 with his company, 3D Systems” says Tim Hessman, Industry Week Associate Editor in a slide show titled “The History of 3D Printing”. It was a short step from there to the concept of laser additive manufacturing in 1997 by Aeromet (an MTS Systems company). According to a 2005 Aeromet press release, laser additive manufacturing (LAM) was the “process for the direct, rapid fabrication of three-dimensional titanium components, directly from computer-based solid models without the use of molds or dies”.
The beginning of commercial 3D printing for manufacturing had become a reality. Aeromet’s radically new technology gave them a competitive advantage in the production of laser formed titanium components to the worldwide aerospace industry that both reduced costs and accelerated time to market across aircraft manufacturing.
Although the idea of 3D printing has been with us for a while and research continues, the broader concept of Additive Manufacturing as a viable production process in manufacturing is relatively new. It also consists of far more than 3D print technology alone. The Additive Manufacturer Users Group (AMUG), which has been in existence since the early 1990s, educates and supports users of all additive manufacturing technologies including:
- 3D Printing (3DP)
- Direct Metal Deposition (DMD)
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
- Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
- Laser Consolidation (LC)
- Laser Sintering (LS)
- Multi-Jet Modeling (MJM)
- Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Stereolithography (SL)
Benefits of Additive Manufacturing
Most would agree that Additive Manufacturing reduces raw material use and provides a fast production, low cost method of delivery. Ed Morris, director of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, in a recent presentation to the AMUG conference, was more specific in what he believes are the benefits of the process as it relates to the Department of Defense (DoD).
- Efficient use of Resources
- Small-Lot Production
- Rapid Manufacturing
- Agile Manufacturing
- Reverse Engineering
- Lightweight Structures
Manufacturing news and insight website Manufacturing.net sites five more top benefits of Additive Manufacturing that you might not have considered:
- Freedom to design and innovate without penalties
- Increased supply chain proficiency with ‘3D faxing’
- Support of green manufacturing initiatives
- Bottom line improvements through factory physics
- Get parts – fast
Additive Manufacturing and the Role of Parts Management
The last benefit on the Manufacturing.net list of top benefits really caught our attention. “Get parts – fast”. While the technology exists for rapid manufacture, not everyone will have at their disposal a 3D printer (or other additive manufacturing method) and detailed CAD drawings for easy reproduction of parts.
So, even though the methodology of manufacturing production may undergo a radical paradigm shift in how things are actually produced, the one constant is that complex equipment will still be constructed of individual parts. And parts (identification, ordering, payment, installation instructions, assemblies and service related bulletins) must be managed regardless of whether the parts are pulled from the warehouse stocking shelves or picked fresh from the 3D printer.
Integration with a manufacturer’s business systems has long been a key benefit of Enigma’s InService EPC software. It builds the bridge between the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and product life management (PLM) that includes the critical aftermarket parts and service component of complex equipment maintenance.
Looking forward, Enigma is perfectly positioned to adapt to the new manufacturing paradigm that Additive Manufacturing is sure to introduce to the world. We’ll be helping to redefine how producers compete in a global industrialized economy.
The December 2 blog post on Aviation Week’s “Turnaround Time” talks about Autodesk, a PLM software vendor, and suggests that the latest offering 1) qualifies as social media, and 2) will bring new opportunities for aerospace maintainers and manufacturers. (PLM stands for product lifecycle management, which is really just a fancy way of saying engineering data management.) With all due respect to the blogger, both arguments seem a bit of a stretch.
First of all, Autodesk 360 Nexus is a cloud-based PLM solution. Now just because it is “in the cloud” does not make it social, despite what the blog says: “So how does that relate to social media? Well, companies are finding better ways to share information about design data, and not just internally. PLM can make it easier for manufacturers and repairers to share data with one another for MRO purposes. So, it’s social. And it can be considered media, as companies are able to give each other pretty much any type of interactive video, graph or diagram that they need. Consumer social media tends to act as more of a marketing initiative for MRO companies more times than not, but this is the social media that gets the products out the door.” What does that mean?
Second, could it be true that Autodesk’s cloud solution is “the social media that gets products out the door?” Doubtful. The fact is that companies already share product information, with or without a cloud. Manufacturing companies are always looking to protect their intellectual property, therefore the benefits of cloud solutions are not based on sharing information but rather on reducing total hardware spend, improving IT staff productivity, increasing end user service levels, and reducing total spend on software licensing and maintenance.
Third, the blogger really stretches the definition of social media. Social media takes many forms (commonly blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) Many vendors, including Enigma, have been making it possible to share information in various formats (or media): interactive video, pictures, 3D models, illustrations and diagrams. Just because a file format is 3D doesn't make the content “social.” And just because it's interactive doesn’t make it “media.”
The blog goes on to say: “… Autodesk’s command of the cloud will allow for more lightweight data, so maintenance technicians will eventually be able to look at information on their tablets and phones without much trouble at all. Again, doing CAD on a tablet is not going to happen yet, but imagine the types of apps for MRO that could come out of the woodwork if companies are using PLM more and more. Not many PLM solutions use the cloud yet, so I have a feeling that Autodesk is going to bring on many new opportunities that MROs haven’t even begun to think about yet. At a very simple level, PLM is a system for maintaining a product throughout its lifecycle, and the last stages of that include maintenance, repair and overhaul for aerospace components.
Now that statement is scary because it stretches the truth on so many levels. CAD/CAM systems have been spitting out 3D engineering data for over 20 years. For the past 10 years engineering managers have been trying to justify their CAD/CAM budget by claiming it helps in maintenance. It hasn’t happened yet. Why? Because the needs of engineering and the needs of maintenance are different, and engineering owns the data. In fact, Enigma has supported 3D data for many years but none of our customers use it. (That said, Enigma demonstrates this capability to almost every potential customer.) In the real world, 3D might be good for training mechanics but it’s not very practical in practice. Give a skilled mechanic a decent drawing with an integrated parts list and they’ll outperform the guy with the 3D glasses every time. (It's just faster.)
Is it true that maintenance technicians will use tablets in their daily work? Yes, that’s why Enigma supports tablets. Could technicians use a cloud-based solution for this purpose? Yes, that’s why Enigma provides a cloud solution. (But again, it’s about controlling costs not to be “social.”) Do technicians need a PLM solution to perform their work? No.
Although PLM vendors have a significant role in design and manufacturing, their solutions seldom play a role for mechanics (though the vendors would undoubtedly like to change that). In two decades of Enigma supporting maintenance organizations, we have yet to see PLM be effective. (Despite what Autodesk, PTC and Dassault Systèmes want you to believe.)
Should there be a feedback loop between the maintenance staff and design engineers? Yes. And for many MRO organizations this feedback loop already exists. Enigma InService MRO is the prime example of an IT solution that enables maintenance planners and technicians to publish, share and revise (update) all technical content, including PLM illustrations such as schematics and drawings. Furthermore, users can attach notes to parts, schematics and service procedures, to collaborate with fellow technicians, planners and even the engineers at the OEM.
Finally, it’s questionable whether Autodesk has “command of the cloud.” No vendor can stake that claim. We don’t mean to be too negative toward our friends in the PLM world, but supporting engineers is very different from supporting mechanics. Just because you’re using buzzwords like “cloud, social and media” doesn’t mean you’ve figured it out.
In customer meetings, Enigma is frequently asked, “do you support 3D models?” The answer is unequivocally, yes.
For manufacturers, many new products are designed using 3D models and assemblies; delivering that detailed data to mechanics and field engineers seems like a cool piece of functionality for any modern parts catalog. However, the goal for manufacturers should be more than just impressing the guys on the front lines (mechanics, dealers and customers); the goal should be to grow the bottom line.
3D models look nice but they don’t provide all the data that service reps need. A technician needs to do more than spin a part on the screen, they also need the most up-to-date service bulletins, manuals, and schematics, and then they need to order the necessary parts. In other words, mechanics need to know how to fix the machine and how to place an order. If a parts catalog doesn’t include service manuals, bulletins, shopping carts and other collateral such as training videos and brochures, then 3D models provide limited value to the customer.
Most OEMs want to make it easy to maintain their machines and order their parts. This drives customer satisfaction and aftermarket sales. Enigma electronic parts catalog (EPC) solutions do four things: 1) make it easy to package all service and parts information (not just the models or parts lists) into a single integrated parts catalog; 2) publish that catalog to the web, to DVD or to the cloud; 3) make it easy for dealers, mechanics and customers to find parts and service information according to equipment serial number, type, configuration/trim package or other criteria; 4) automate the parts ordering and procurement process. Enigma helps OEMs create and update a fully integrated parts catalog that improves customer and dealer support.
That’s why Enigma EPC’s do more than display 3D models; they integrate seamlessly with all aftermarket support solutions (ERP, CRM, SCM, PLM, ECM, etc.). OEMs can leverage their 3D models beyond engineering and manufacturing…all the way to the service bay. Enigma supports 3D viewing solutions, like Oracle AutoVue and Right Hemisphere. (To learn more about the Enigma-Oracle joint solution for parts ordering, click here.)
OEMs can now reuse 3D models in their interactive EPCs, tying them into back-office order management systems to provide a one-stop shop for identifying, locating and ordering OEM branded parts. Integrating Enigma with 3D models results in a complete parts and service solution that improves dealer, technician and customer support, and drives OEM parts revenue.