6 ways 3d printing is transforming lean manufacturing

Glen White
- Lean - Nov 13, 2014

One of the key technology trends in the manufacturing sector at the moment is 3d printing, or additive manufacturing. It has been recognised as a potential industry game changer due to its innovative nature but also because of its lean characteristics. 3d printing has the capacity to reduce waste, save time and thus save money and in a sector, which is constantly being challenged in those areas, it’s no wonder it’s garnering a lot of attention.

SEE MORE: The future of lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing best practice and 3d printing go hand-in-hand. Manufacturing Global finds out why.

1. Easier prototyping

Prototyping in its traditional sense is a wasteful process and one that is prone to errors. It involves drilling, cutting and removing materials, which is also very time consuming and labour intensive. Furthermore, prototyping is often outsourced to a third party, which results in marked up prices and delays. 3d printing provides an alternative solution, which is less expensive, less wasteful and quicker. Manufacturers are also more likely to complete this process in-house.

2. Easier customisation 

Manufacturers constantly have to adapt to changing consumer demand and the days of one-size-fits-all are behind us. 3d printing gives manufacturing companies much greater flexibility because it does not require molding and cutting like traditional methods – 3d printing machines can also be easily reconfigured so each product on the same production line can vary as needed. The ability to customize the production line allows manufacturers to diversify and meet consumer demand, while running a leaner operation.

3. Greater creativity and efficiency

3d manufacturing allows for greater flexibility and thus creativity. Due to the fact it is cheaper to ‘take risks’ and create new products, manufacturers are experimenting more, which in-turn leads to new processes, products and greater levels of innovation. 3d printing gives manufacturers creative freedom to design while still in the concept stage, before a prototype even enters the equation. As a result, they are wasting less time with trial and error, which is traditionally associated with prototyping. They also reduce the amount of materials that fall by the wayside, and they make much more efficient use of their time.

SEE MORE: How to achieve process excellence using lean and six sigma

4. Improved consistency

Once properly programmed, a 3d printer can create a consistent product time and time again. Not only does this improve product quality, but will also ensure complete efficiency along the production line.

5. Reduced lead times

Inflated lead times are anything but lean. Wasted time often results in corner cutting further down the production line, which in-turn leads to wasteful mistakes. Due to the consistent nature of 3d printing, manufacturers know what to expect and can set more accurate and reduced lead times.

6. Lower prices 

Manufacturing firms are constantly under pressure to produce goods at lower prices. 3d printing makes this possible owing to a reduction in the number of steps required to see a product from concept to production. 3d printing also reduces the amount of material needed. Those savings of both time and material can be passed onto the end consumer.

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