Liberating Design: How Retailers and Designers are Embracing 3D Printing
One of the biggest benefits of using a 3D printing technology is customization. Mass producing products work in some industries, but not everyone can make a profit off this business model.
Even when mass producing products is the main manufacturing plan, there are still plenty of opportunities to make a bigger profit from offering customization to clients. This hasn’t been something that manufacturers have always had warm fuzzies about, but it’s catching their eye as it grows in popularity.
One example of customization options is being explored by Adidas. While it is still in the prototype phase, they are partnering with strategic manufacturing partners to bring 3D printing into their business model.
Since runners crave custom shoes to help them run more comfortably, the company hopes to deliver a more individualized experience. One day, they hope that customers will walk into their stores and hop on a treadmill for a new type of analysis.
Through different scans of the foot and additive manufacturing software, the freedom to design a custom pair of shoes for the customer can be done on site with 3D printing. This also allows customers to choose their preferred colors and look to make a shoe that is truly customized to them in effort aspect of the product.
Changing the Field
A more personalized form of manufacturing is being explored by more industries than just shoemakers. It is reaching into different forms of wearables, housewares, eyeglass frames, medicine, orthopedics, luggage, toys, jewelry, and more. The list of companies seeking this type of service is growing constantly to meet the new standards that customers want.
Traditional manufacturing uses solid materials, then cuts away to create an item. Another name for 3D printing is additive manufacturing because it does the opposite in creation; materials are added layer by layer to create the product. This liberates design for retailers for several reasons.
- Modeling software allows customization with fast changes
- Many materials are available, like plastic, paper, epoxy, resins, and nylon are all available in this process
- Special orders are created on the spot, cutting down wait times for customers
This process brings value to not only the customer but also to the company. Having the personalization edge is attractive to customers, bringing in more revenue. People feel empowered and more in control of the products they want to buy, unleashing a lot of creative ability for the designers and customers alike.
Data collection is a valuable resource for companies with this manufacturing style as well. Knowing exactly what their customers want and need from them helps companies know where to focus their efforts. If trends are tapped into wisely, mass production can bring down the cost of these items, being displayed and sold for less than the customization options. All of this points to one thing; value to the customer, brand, and experience for all parties.
If you are looking to up your manufacturing game, it is important to consider getting on the 3D printing train. This is more than just a trend, it’s the wave of the future in the industry.
How to Optimize Your Production Planning and Scheduling to Save Time and Money
One of the most complicated parts of being in the manufacturing industry is managing production times. As a vital part of a supply chain, each company relies on another to stay on a schedule and do their part to complete the job. The most successful companies have a plan that is realistic and well organized to make sure they are meeting all their goals. There are five main things to consider when learning how to optimize your production schedule; forecasting, managing inventory, efficiency evaluation, equipment, and training.
Every good schedule starts with a plan. While there is no way to plan for every possible problem that can happen, it’s better to plan a little extra time into a plan for possible complications. It is also possible to prepare for certain types of demands. Looking at historical data and doing a little bit of research can leave your company more prepared for various demands.
If you have put in the time to forecast properly, you can avoid duplication of effort, limited equipment use, and conflict demands. Have an internal system that notifies others if there is a scheduling conflict. Have the oversight to manage equipment and supplies available to avoid double booking projects or running out of space during a peak season.
Proper forecast and doing some preparation will help you avoid costly mistakes like setbacks and terrible customer experiences.
Inventory control is an important part of manufacturing because companies must keep enough on hand to keep the business going, but not too much that you end up with large storage problems. It has never been easier to manage inventory stores than it is today with all the different software programs available to help keep track of supplies and historical data.
The best way to manage inventory is a process that:
- Determines ideal amounts to have on hand
- Fill orders
- Send it to customers
- Refill the used supplies to keep the optimum levels on hand
This is one continuous cycle that might change through the year with peak seasons and availability of materials and machines.
Efficiency is the name of the game when deciding standard practices for your manufacturing business. Once you have worked on a process, you find the most efficient way to do a task. This happens in every home with household chores, every commuter who drives the same route, and manufacturers completed the same tasks.
You learn the best order, pieces, and timing when you have done a task enough. Managing your standard practices involves finding the tasks you do every day, or just an average day, and then make it a standardized practice. This helps you know a timeframe for completing the tasks in a predictable, reliable way that is most efficient which can be passed on to others.
Managing equipment becomes a natural step to creating a plan and standardizing your practices. Learning to anticipate periods of heavy use helps your company to spread out jobs to manage power use and conflicts to scheduling.
An important part of manufacturing equipment is servicing the equipment to prevent breakdowns. If you can schedule this in during non-peak production times, it will help prevent problems when you most need the machines. There are all types of conditions that can influence this decision, including temperatures, seasons, holidays, and energy usage.
If possible, spread the workload out to reduce chances of overworking your equipment. This can be done by buying multiple machines, using more than one facility, or rotating machinery.
Manufacturing companies are required to complete many different safety certifications and inspections because there are so many risks. It is important to protect your workers and your reputations by providing sufficient, regular training to your workers.
Training is not just about safety. This gives you an opportunity to make sure processes are being taught and run in the most efficient way possible. During these times, you can also do quality control and inspections to evaluate areas you can improve. Setting expectations can go a long way when done before bad work habits are established.
It also provides a way for workers to communicate with managers, directors, and company leaders. Since they are the ones doing a lot of the footwork, it is important to let them know they have a voice. Ideas are a great way to innovate your practices and improve processes.
Optimizing Your Production
Using schedules to plan and schedule your operations will save you time and money. Avoiding the possibility of losing a job, having an unhappy customer, and possible injuries or setbacks will save your company time and money. As all manufacturers know, time is money and everyone could use more of both.
How to Put Human into Your Manufacturing Process
In manufacturing, it seems that the human-factor is disappearing when you look at it on the outside. It is easy to make that assumption when you think about all the machines, software, and automation that is currently there, as well as the innovation that is ongoing. However, there is a large human part of this industry that cannot be replaced.
Today, consumers are looking for a more personalized and efficient process for manufactured goods. These emphasize an experience that focuses on the one-on-one approach to products and processes to create individual requirements. Some of the most common tools available to manufacturers today are:
- Computers and Digital Tracking Equipment
- Design Software
- Global networking
Each of these tools helps manufacturers get a better glimpse at their company, customer, and ability to improve their business. Here is a bit more about each tool and how it benefits the process.
Computers and Digital Tracking Equipment
The biggest advantage to using computers and digital equipment is that they speed up processes. From designing products on the computer to inputting the tasks into the equipment, workers always know where they are in the process. It saves work and keeps tasks on schedule. This streamlines the work all through the manufacturing line and through the supply chain.
With the improvements of computers and digital tracking equipment, software to increase design abilities was close behind. Manufacturing has the designing ability for finding flaws faster and cutting down time creating prototypes.
The internet has made the world smaller for everyone, including companies doing business. With all the shipping and correspondence given through the web, companies have a more global presence. This allows people to create markets for customers who want improved products.
As great as these tools are, there is no way for humans to ever be completely replaced. The interaction required to use them and improve a business requires a person who can work autonomously and think critically. Many people have looked at manufacturing and assumed it would only be a matter of time before humans are replaced entirely in this industry, but that just isn’t true. Humans are required for multiple areas here. That doesn’t mean that their roles will not change because they must.
The Company’s Responsibility
The main responsibility that companies have is to put the message forward, letting others know where the benefits of technology come into manufacturing. Thoroughly explaining the transformations required in their processes helps to convey the importance to their workers. People are a necessary component in this process, meaning that they can make or break the process.
After education, the most important thing to do is to work on morale. A company that has workers with high morale will have employees who are willing to learn new processes, improve techniques, and want to help improve the company. Tools need to be utilized to their full potential, but it does no good without a knowledgeable user.
While these tools are helpful, they cannot replace the human aspect. Humans are required to engage teams, innovate processes, and interpret information to act. The whole point of technology is not to replace humans, but to bring them to the front and center of manufacturing. It is only humans who can create the experiences, quality, and professional aspects to manufacturing for customers and employees. The industry of tomorrow will be one that makes life more interesting and creative for those who need it.
How 3D Printing is Disrupting the Supply Chain
Supply chains must be efficient to be successful, which is why innovative ideas are always hitting them. Processes are refined, added to, taken away from, and improved over time. Each improvement takes effort, creative ideas, money, and time. As digital technology improves, and automation becomes more common, changes have happened more frequently. The biggest advancement is coming in the form of 3D printing technology.
The 3D Printing Revolution
With 3D printing making an impact on almost every industry, it’s no surprise that it is making a mark in the supply chain. Two big names, GE and UPS, are investing in 3D printing equipment to expand their businesses and cut down on the supply chain logistics.
GE has been in the manufacturing business for a long time, but they are looking to the future and how they can become a bigger name with 3D printing. The company has invested billions of dollars into 3D printing technology and recently made headlines for creating the largest additive machine in the world. This 3D printing device is going to be used to manufacture 40,000 jet fuel nozzles by 2020. They also hope to replace more than 850 parts included in a regular aircraft engine with only 12 components created by the 3D printer.
UPS is creating a national network of facilities that will house 3D printing equipment, hoping to capitalize on the ability to create products on demand. Customers follow the simple process of contacting the company when they need parts and UPS produces them with this equipment. This significantly cuts down production time and since they also deliver the products right to the customer’s door, it reduces the number of companies involved. UPS is hoping to really increase their worth by becoming a leader in manufacturing on top of shipping the products.
The Impact on the Supply Chain
With companies getting into more than one component of a product, it disrupts the supply chain. This cuts out any additional companies that contributed to parts before, reducing time and costs. Where several businesses were involved in designing and creating products before (through materials, manufacturing, and shipping), there are fewer hands involved.
This is still a developing idea, with facilities being outfitted. As 3D printing becoming more readily available and applications are still being discovered, this is just the beginning of how it can change the manufacturing industry and supply chain. Other businesses are already looking into how they can adapt their companies to similar strategies. With more qualified staff members becoming familiar with 3D printing processes, there is more availability for training and hiring too.
Companies are not the only ones benefiting from these innovations. The savings are ultimately passed down to the consumer. As more companies adapt, the competition in the market helps to keep those prices low. When everything is done under one roof, by one company, it makes everything more efficient overall.
As businesses learn how to do all the steps of manufacturing themselves, others follow the same pattern. It’s certain that the supply chain will start looking and functioning in a very different way within the next ten years.
Virtual Reality and Its Impact on Designing Products
Virtual reality is more than just a fun way to play video games. This technology is becoming more prominent across multiple industries, especially in product design and manufacturing. It is helping to create better products in less time and with less money.
In a traditional form of production, manufacturing companies go through several different steps and stages before the final product is produced, which are:
- Creating the initial design on a computer
- Making a prototype of the design
- Work out problems, then make an improved prototype (repeat until product is right)
- Produce the final product
Virtual reality gives a three-dimensional view of products from the design stage. There are a lot of limitations to only using a screen to spot details in more complex products, so using virtual reality helps designers and engineers see their products on a life-size scale. This improves chances of spotting potential problems before the first prototype is even manufactured, reducing the amount of time spent on finding problems.
Once production on prototypes begins, there are fewer revisions overall because problems were found using the virtual reality. With 3D software, you can not only look at the designs better but experience the elements of the products the company is making. You are essentially creating prototypes faster and making changes in less time too.
Producing prototypes takes money. Manufacturing prices are usually low because products are ordered in bulk amounts for selling over many markets. Producing a prototype takes more money per piece because specifications are still being figured out and only one product is made. The less money put into making these prototypes, the better the overall costs are when it comes time for production.
Creating all the prototypes in virtual reality software costs less money than continually producing a physical one with each change. This means you don’t waste materials or take up valuable machine time on bigger jobs, saving everyone more money on the entire job.
While many of the wealthiest corporations in the world have used this technology in their companies for decades, it hasn’t been available to everyone. The high costs of the software and the equipment used to support it have limited smaller companies from having access to these benefits. In the long run, the upfront costs are less than the time and costs spent on each project, freeing up these valuable resources for other businesses and projects, but funding that initial purchase is just out of reach for many companies.
Two other limitations have been having space for the equipment and availability. Over time, virtual reality has become smaller in size, just like other computer-based products. It still takes a lot of room and equipment, but it is easier to set up.
As for price and availability, virtual reality is becoming more commonplace in other industries, which helps bring the costs down for everyone. The more companies invest in it themselves, it helps open the market to other creators for selling similar software programs and equipment, leading to competition and lower prices too.
Manufacturing companies are anxious to bring this immersive technology to their design teams. It is projected that within the next decade, it will become a more affordable option for everyone, which will bring a bigger impact to the manufacturing industry.
A Guide to Safety Management in Manufacturing
Manufacturing is an industry with unique safety risks because of the work involved. In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Health and Safety Act (or OSHA) help reduce hazards in the workplace for employers and employees. With safety management, there is a focus to put proper protocols in place and everyone takes preventative measures, workplaces injuries are avoided.
The regulations instituted under OSHA help create a healthy working environment. They have set the framework for the entire country for standards on electrical equipment, electrical hazards, machinery guarding, permit use, and preventing accidents. In October 2015, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, or ISRI, joined with OSHA to help promote these standards in the recycling industry. There are specific areas that OSHA has improved safety on, including transportation, radiation, chemicals, explosives, machining, inspections, and training.
Manufacturing isn’t the only industry that depends heavily on transportation for services and products. Whether they are delivering or picking up materials, it’s important that the drivers in transportation are properly trained in safety protocols. The costs involved in hiring, training, and ensuring drivers is a large amount, but they are much less than the costs associated with accidents.
A well-trained fleet of drivers and transit directors often choose safety practices naturally. They are trained to identify hazards and know how to avoid them with:
- Loading and unloading trucks
- Special considerations, like drums on a ramp
- Safety features on each vehicle
- Laws for drivers and specific types of loads
Transportation is an area that benefits a lot from technology. There are products that help track efficiency, diagnose problems, and even monitor activity in trucks to suggest better ways to do the job, and make sure safety protocols are being met.
Society has known the risks of too much exposure to radiation for a long time now and knows the importance of tracking it. To avoid injury or death, it’s vital that employees are trained to leave the proximity of radiation immediately. This helps limit the amount of tissue damage because the exposure is minimal.
Regulations require proper clothing to be worn, including eyeglasses and side shields. Bodies must be covered with long-sleeves in proper materials, sunscreen, and lead aprons. Warning signs should be posted in appropriate areas, where they are visible to all and warn sufficiently of the dangers. These precautions can help limit the amount of damage done to employees, but it also takes training on when to leave the area and seek medical help.
Safety management for chemicals involves two very important steps. The first is properly labeling all chemicals, with an extra label warning if the chemical is hazardous. The other steps are sufficient training in the use and storage of chemicals. This training should also cover precautions to take to avoid exposure injuries, improper mixing, and how to treat injuries. If all employees know this information, they can watch for signs and administer help if a co-worker is in trouble, potentially saving their lives.
Inspections are one of the most effective ways to prevent explosions in the workplace. They help reduce risk by helping to monitor proper use, storage, and any potential electrical malfunctions. There are regulations on storage that are important to follow, such as
- Never store them underground with only one exit
- All facilities must be approved
- No smoking areas or open flames within 50 feet
When inspections are ongoing, employees are more aware of the expectations and problems are stopped sooner.
Most manufacturing facilities have many kinds of machines, from forklifts to expensive machines that complete automated tasks. Training in properly operating machines is an important part of preventing accidents, limiting access to select employees. Those who are around machines at any time should be aware of their surroundings and watch out for any moving parts, staying out of the way during operation.
Inspections and Training
Regulations require specific inspections, so OSHA has provided checklists to make sure they have an acceptable minimum standard. Some examples include:
- Proper communicating for reporting accidents
- An emergency plan for specific scenarios, including risks mentioned early, plus more risks including fire prevention and proper exits
- Properly made and maintained surfaces for walking and working, limiting risks for falling injuries
- Available first aid stations and medical supplies
Since training is the largest factor in a safe and healthy workplace, employers should provide continual opportunities to receive more. Never train on the first day and then expect employees to remember for their entire careers there. Keeping safety standards at the front of everyone’s mind helps improve efficiency, limits citations, and reduces costs in the long run, but it also keeps everyone safe, which is the main goal.
Artificial Intelligence and How It Could Transform Manufacturing
The manufacturing world has had a lot of innovative changes in the last two decades, but none are bigger than the advances in artificial intelligence companies are seeing now. Artificial intelligence is defined as “human intelligence exhibited by machines”. When businesses apply it to their systems, it helps optimize their processes and bring on new ideas.
Breakthroughs that improve companies are everywhere in artificial intelligence. Some of the examples of artificial intelligence in companies using it are:
- Speech recognition eliminates the need to type or use a touchscreen.
- Analyze data and information
- Scan and respond to surroundings
- Optimizing processes
This has helped doctors diagnose cancers more effectively, simplify taxi routes in major cities, and make underground pipeline leaks easier to detect. It seems to be improving businesses by cutting out unnecessary labor costs and damage control in every industry. That is, except for manufacturing.
Manufacturing Challenges and Changes
Why does the manufacturing sector fall behind other industries in the adoption of artificial intelligence? While no one can say for sure, Brent Dykes, the director of data strategy at Domo, a software company, believes it has to do with data collection. To really apply artificial intelligence to a company, first, there must be mature analytics to help make decisions.
The global consulting firm, McKinsey, says that only 20-30% of the data and analytics needed have been collected in manufacturing. Since most of this is done by the leading companies in the industry, it doesn’t provide enough information across the board for individual companies.
Despite this information, artificial intelligence does exist in manufacturing. It mostly involves preventative maintenance and automated tasks. Depending on the product, quality control might also be done with artificial intelligence, but even that varies. Using this technology to help collect data and analyze areas that need improvement can only increase the chances that more technology will be used in the future.
With the rate that improvements are made in technology, manufacturing companies are looking at a radical change in the next decade. Once the data shows the best applications for it, the technology will become the new standard, making room for even more improvements in the future.
Reaching Zero Emissions in the Largest US Port Complex
Joining in the worldwide effort to improve air quality for everyone, the largest port complex in the United States has set a goal to make a difference. The twin ports, located in Los Angeles and Long Beach, cover more than 23 square miles of land and water and produce most of Southern California’s air pollution. This is because they handle approximately 40 percent of container import traffic for the United States. As the ninth-largest port complex in the world, they also see a quarter of the total exports for the country.
The pollution comes from both barges and equipment in the ports. The framework to the plan to significantly reduce the amount of pollution they see by 2035 was just approved by the governing board, after hearing from environmentalists, community groups, elected officials, and industry leaders such as Tesla. The more detailed plans have yet to be released, but here is what we know so far.
Improvements will happen each year until there are zero emissions. These changes are not going to be inexpensive either. The estimated costs are going to be between $7 billion and $14 billion. The details of the plan are not all figured out, like who will ultimately pay the bill for the new equipment. Once the plans are fully planned, each program will require individual approval by each of the port’s harbor commission.
There are some lofty goals in the plans, including strategies aimed at improving efficiency and equipment when moving cargo. Some of the main points involve strategies for trucks such as:
- Clean-engine milestones for vehicles
- Incentives to turnover fleets to more efficient trucks with fewer emissions
- Programs for efficiency in truck reservations and staging yards
- Requirements for terminal operators to use equipment with zero-emissions
Terminal equipment will also undergo changes by implementing a goal of using electric trains to move half of the cargo out of the ports. The on-dock rail will be expanding to help accommodate this plan.
Success for this plan depends largely on collaboration between the two ports and all the responsible governments and communities. In a statement to the press, Lou Anne Bynum, Long Beach Harbor Commission President, said: “Moving the needle to zero requires all of us- the ports, industry, regulatory agencies, environmental groups and our communities- to pool our energy, expertise, and resources.”
While the goal is one everyone can agree is beneficial to the area and the planet, it has yet to show how the plan will play out in the years to come. Everyone is hopeful that the clean air will draw others in rather than push out traffic to other ports in the East and Gulf coasts. This would not only increase emissions in these other parts of the country, but many fear it will harm the local economy that relies on the ports.
The varying groups couldn’t agree on the right path to meeting all the lofty goals, but they all agree it is important to make changes. As these ports set out to make a difference, everyone will be watching to see how it gets done.