For more than two centuries industrial factory production has excelled in four key aspects: repeatability of the process, durability of parts produced, productivity of the workflow, and an economical total cost of operation. Factory workflows have been optimized to produce the best possible parts in quantity, as inexpensively as possible. Any new production method or workflow process that hopes to be accepted alongside this standard process must meet or otherwise improve on these time-worn elements.
Today manufacturing is undergoing rapid transformation: it’s a process some call Industry 4.0. New marketplace demands push manufacturers to increase speed and agility. New business models require a rapid response to consumer demand and rapid design iteration. Manufacturers need shorter production cycles and faster product ecosystem evolution; they must create physical products at a digital pace.
Fortunately for manufacturers facing these pressures, 3D printing technologies have advanced in capability to be strategic assets for industrial factory production. New materials, new printing methods, new design capabilities, and new workflow processes mean a digital approach to manufacturing is now possible. For the past 30 years, 3D printing has been an R&D staple for design review, prototyping, and occasional one-off or bridge manufacturing. Today, 3D printing is joining the factory floor and can be part of manufacturing the final products in production volumes.
Three Pillars of the Digital Factory
Research firm Jabil claims 68% of automotive manufacturers report a go-to-market aim of under two years, down from nearly a decade only a few years ago. Other industries have similar velocity requirements for new product introductions. To meet these new market demands requires the innovative production speed and capability available through the Digital Factory.
The Digital Factory offers transformative opportunities for injection molding, casting, and part production. There are three pillars of the Digital Factory: metals, plastics, and the Digital Foundry. What a manufacturer needs depends on the industry, products, and level of art-to-part velocity required. All three pillars depend on state-of-the-art software to achieve their full potential.
Digital Factory Onramp
The Digital Factory is about more than new hardware. 3D Systems has invested heavily in R&D for both new materials and new software. A wide range of metals, thermoplastics, and resins are available, all certified for use in the Digital Factory framework. 3D Systems’ file preparation software eliminates the needs for CAD experts and costly software in the factory leading to significant cost savings.
Manufacturers now have the ability to rewrite their business models and seize competitive advantages in the era of Industry 4.0. As engineers and executives learn what can be accomplished in the Digital Factory, they will find new ways of creating better products faster. New products, new business models, and new companies will be the natural result for those who embrace the Digital Factory.