Table of Contents
Chapter One: Why 3D Printing?
In the last few years, 3D printing has moved beyond its reputation as just a rapid prototyping tool. With high configurability and the ability to tackle complex parts, 3D printing is now a welcome supplement to traditional manufacturing technologies. Manufacturers, machine shops, service bureaus, and rapid prototyping firms are all finding new ways to incorporate 3D printing into production. They’re creating functional parts, consumer products, tooling and fixtures, and more. There are applications for 3D printing in every industry.
As 3D printing grows, demand for solutions to manage multiple printers has also grown. Teams experience growing pains as they scale from small production efforts to fleets of printers producing thousands of parts. Skilled operators are in high demand. Existing solutions are hyper-focused, inflexible, and struggle to scale with operations built around customization and small product runs. Additive manufacturing is a new field growing rapidly, and printer management software hasn’t kept up.
In this guide, we will introduce you to the ways that digital applications can help streamline and manage your 3D printing operations. We’ll cover a range of use-cases and tools designed to help you coordinate, track, and scale production. Our 3D printing solution was developed by experts in additive manufacturing with the field’s most stubborn challenges in mind.
When you’re finished, you will understand how digitizing production can be a game-changer for your additive manufacturing operation.
Chapter Two: Why Organizations are Embracing Additive
There are more use-cases for 3D printing than ever. Compared to traditional methods of manufacturing, 3D printing has the advantage when it comes to:
Customization – The quick transfer from design to production means 3D printing enables mass customization. With a few clicks teams can adjust part specs, change material types to meet requirements, and switch between parts for specific orders. This is a valuable advantage that 3D printing brings.
Complexity – 3D printing also simplifies complexity, allowing you to create parts with minimal post-processing. Parts that may have previously required extensive machining and finishing can be completed with less effort and intervention.
Sustainability – Because of the reduced machining necessary, 3D printing can eliminate waste, as you no longer need to perform subtractive operations from large pieces of stock, creating more sustainable parts.
Innovation – With the ability to produce new parts, your organization may find new use-cases for 3D printing, such as tooling on a factory floor, which can augment your traditional manufacturing or process efficiency.
Several challenges exist that limit organizations from running production operations efficiently and seeing these advantages. These challenges include:
- High mix production requirements
- Difficulty managing as many as dozens of machines
- Tracking job progression through post-processing operations
- Limited talent knowledge regarding 3D printing and lengthy training
With digital application solutions, these challenges can be addressed and overcome, which can reduce roadblocks when scaling your printing process.
Chapter Three: Improving and Scaling 3D Printing Operations
Data can improve your operations. So it should be a no-brainer that you are collecting data in your process. Without it, decisions made to change your process for the better are a shot in the dark. Digital applications enable you to collect robust data you can improve your operations and unlock new transparency to help ensure quality, and inform decisions and changes.
With digital apps that are integrated into your workflow, data can be easily captured at each process step, and stored in a single place for analysis later, or in real-time. Being able to capture this data is important and shouldn’t interrupt your workflow, so it should be passive or easily integrated into the tasks the operator already has to complete.
Here is an overview of how digital applications improve production for a team printing parts with several 3D printers and post-processing operations:
With a printer management terminal app, the team can add new printers and update specifics such as the current material type, and requirements for printing with each machine. On the fly, operators can view a table of all of the printers currently in their print farm.
Jobs can be added as well, with specific requirements and images.
In a printer management dashboard, active printers can be monitored based on their current status, and more details about the time to complete, and the current job can be viewed and updated. Analytics can be created based on job completion and uptime of printers as well.
Post-Print Work Track
When a print has completed, operators fill out a quality form in the digital solution to track part quality.
The operators can be guided through their workflow with a simple, off-the-shelf barcode scanner, speeding up workflows by simply scanning printers and workflows to update the printer status.
This also enables batch tracking, allowing individuals or groups of parts to be tracked through post-processing. If the part needs support removal, solvent wash, sanding, painting, or sintering, you can track and update the batch in a table, enabling transparency at every step.
With production visibility into your data, you can operate more efficiently. Displaying metrics in public dashboards enable everyone in the process to identify trends and progress, and solve issues faster if they arise.
In addition to guided workflows, training operators is another way digital apps can transform your process. By setting up a training application, you can walk operators through a mock-process, and quiz them on important information regarding each step and function of your production. Permissions based on training completion can be monitored and changed based on the active operator, simply by signing on. This enables you to quickly onboard new hires, and train them in your unique process while minimizing user error.
Machine monitoring provides data collected directly from the source. If your 3D printers support API protocols, you can integrate information about the current print directly into your apps. Being able to automate printer status and job information saves operators time and reduces the chance of error.
In Practice: Formlabs
With Tulip’s 3D printing solutions, Formlabs was able to unlock real-time visibility for their own in-house printing operation. Formlabs utilizes over 60 printers to print over 10,000 parts per month. With batch tracking and dashboards, their team was able to have visibility into their production at all times and have full part traceability. In addition, real-time data allowed them to resolve issues quickly and see immediate results as they scaled their printing operation.
In Practice: Stratasys
Stratasys, another leading 3D printer OEM was able to adopt digital applications to assist in the national COVID-19 response. With its internal printing operations, the company was initially aiming to print 5,000 PPE face shields. With digital apps, they were quickly able to ramp up to 40,000 face shields per week over a 6 week period. Stratasys was able to configure and deploy Tulip’s 3D printing solution, enabling efficient production tracking and printer management.
Chapter Four: 3D Printing Solutions for Your Whole Team
Integrating digital technology to manage your 3D printing operations can benefit your whole team.
Skilled operators are in high demand. Being able to train new hires quickly is essential to growth. Digitizing your 3D printing production operation allows you to assign permissions and training for new operators to complete, and walk them through every step of your print process.
With digital workflows, engineers can have complete control over your process. Configurability with no-code apps enables quick changes based on new materials or post-processing. API connections with your printers enable machine monitoring directly from the source of the data and enable you to optimize workflows.
With better data and analytics, your operations can improve and grow. Real-time dashboards that track quality metrics and KPIs specific to your process lead to informed decisions towards growth and continuous improvement.
Chapter Five: The Final Recap
To recap this guide, we have discussed:
- The opportunity that additive manufacturing brings
- How to improve and scale your 3D printing process with digital apps
- Benefits of digital apps for your whole team
- Examples with industry-leading OEMs
Taking this and implementing it into your workflow can unlock new potential, regardless of the stage that your operation is. If you’re just starting out in your organization, digital apps can help you build a production process.
As you scale, managing your processes and data can be configured to meet your needs.
With a mature print farm, you can ensure maximum transparency into your production, pre-print, and post-print.
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