Tom and Tracy share their list of the seven deadly sins in 3D printing that are keeping it from becoming lean manufacturing. There are supposed to be eight things that you should remove from a company to make it a true lean manufacturing model, and 3D printing actually solves a lot of those eight things. But there are also seven things being done in 3D printing that are holding it back.
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7 Sins Of 3D Printing/Lean Manufacturing
Today, we are going to share with you our list, our actual seven sins of 3D printing that are holding it back from being lean manufacturing. The lean manufacturing module, which has been around for quite some time, Six Sigma, the whole thing, all of that has been around for a very long time. I’ve worked in and around companies that had that as their mission and all of those things. There are eight ways that you are supposed to remove from a company, and we’ve reduced it to seven sins. A little bit different take on it. There are eight ways of it in which I think 3D printing solves a lot of those eight ways and really could make it truly lean manufacturing. At the same time, it’s created some other problems or it has other problems, its growing pains, becoming a manufacturing method. When you’re really looking at additive manufacturing of using 3D printing, that’s what we’re talking about here.
The eight ways on true lean manufacturing model is over-production, waiting, movement, over-processing, excess inventory, obviously we solved that problem easily, motion, defects and employee talent. Some of those are still problematic and defect rate or something like that have to be resolved, or ways at which you scan 3D prints to make sure there are no internal defects, things like that. Those are all solvable in terms of production machines and other things. There are some that have not had enough work done on them to truly make lean manufacturing out of 3D printing. Truly use it as a manufacturing method. So we decided to put our list together.
Let’s start going through it. Number one, skilled labor. If anybody listens to us regularly, I think you probably know we feel that there is a skilled labor gap. We’re not the only ones who think that. GE has had to put in a whole training program and everything for their manual manufacturing just to get the skill they need into their labor force for their 3D print metal manufacturing. We have talked about this recently, some of the thoughts that we have is that actually you might be looking in the wrong place for your labor. That may be part of the problem. I don’t know that necessarily you have to have skilled labor that came out of a specific school of engineering or anything like that to be able to fill your labor gap.
I think that you’ll really have to start thinking about looking at some of these startups and entrepreneurs who may really not want to be entrepreneurs in the long run. I’ve seen a lot of them struggling to build businesses. They have great understanding and excitement around 3D printing but they’re struggling to build the business. Those are the people you should be tapping to running your divisions. Find your head of operations. Find you head of engineering. Find people through that, and then train the rest.
I think you can’t avoid, at this state of the industry, at this state of manufacturing in America or even in other countries, I think you cannot ignore the fact that you are going to need to train people. You cannot expect to put out a job application and hire exactly who you need that’s going to have all the answers to all of your pain points. You may find someone that has a couple pieces of the puzzle, but you’re going to have to train them in order to bridge that divide. The most important thing to address that skilled labor gap, we think, is a training program. That is certainly something that you can attack in order to develop a manufacturing program that is 3D printing based.
You don’t have to be a huge company to develop a training program. We’re not a big company. We have employees. We have half a dozen employees that are used for certain specific things. We have a training program for them. This is not 3D printing related, but it’s just an example. Even in that, we look for people with certain skills, but we know they have to be trained in order to meet our needs of what we need them to do. This is not an unusual thing for manufacturing facilities anywhere, whether you’re a machine shop or all of that. They have apprenticeship and training programs. To cop out and say that there is just not enough labor for it and not build a training program, then you really haven’t tried that hard. That takes care of number one.
Number two, lingo. I just love the way it sounds, lingo. Lingo is a huge problem. We have these terms of 3D print technology that come out, slicing and all these things. They’re not the terms of manufacturing. They’re also not the terms that, don’t take this the wrong way, somebody who is not educated already in the industry would really understand. What we say all the time with new users, new people entering 3D printing. I wouldn’t say educated, but not indoctrinated into the industry. We have to adapt manufacturing language of how process flows and how all of those things and where things fit in the process.
We have to also then look at it though in terms of our vertical. What type of products are we making? Does this fit? The fashion world has its own set of language for cut and sews and patterns and the way that they work. Not that they can’t be done in another method, it can, but the language is a barrier. Can you imagine how the traditional shoe industry looks at a company like Feetz or Wiivv Wearables? I’m sure their traditional shoe manufacturers are really rooted deeply in traditional manufacturing methods. Not only do they not understand the lingo of 3D printing, but they probably actually are scoffing at these companies making shoes in a completely different way. “They are not doing this, they are not doing that.” That’s true, but it’s also a new day. It’s a new product. Open your eyes.
I think that it’s a disservice to your customer at the end of the day and to your company as a whole if you held strict to the new tech language and you didn’t adapt the shoe language and you didn’t shift it in there. You may modify that shoe language and add on to it. If you didn’t call it an upper or you didn’t call the heels the right type of heels, now you have a sales problem on other end, because those people are accustomed to selling a particular type. You’ve created a whole channel problem for yourself. The language does have to morph. You can help shift that and help move it into a new language for the new things that has no word for it today, or has no word in that industry or that vertical for it today. That’s absolutely fine. But to just scoff at it and say, “No, we’re holding to our tech, our tech language will get adopted.” You’re actually doing your company of disservice in the overall market adoption.
Another way to look at it though is maybe there needs to be a balance between something is moving a little more toward the modern in tech, but tech needs to also to migrate toward what is understood. Especially in the sales aspect of that industry. But in that thinking, it’s like you’re asking to move the Titanic when you really just had to change the language. It’s easier for us to move the tech language than it is to move the model of the business. I think the model of business is going to adopt it because it becomes a great product. It becomes a better sale.
It becomes all of these things that they want and need. If you’re solving that problem, then people are going to adopt that language too. That’s why you can use interchangeable terms. You can use a modified term. Move it like that. I think it also is solvable. It is a sin that if you’re committing that, you’re actually hurting yourself overall in terms of moving the manufacturing process, moving it into lean manufacturing and lean selling in the long run. We certainly don’t want to be holding ourselves back.
Number three, overly complex. I put that one here thinking of learning the lessons from Feetz. We have these printers that do all of these things really, really well. What do we have to do? We have to re-hack them and change them and simplify them. I think of Titan and their big giant printers and all the things that they’re doing. If you design a printer specifically to do the one thing that you need to do in manufacturing, that’s actually the way manufacturing equipment is made. If you go into, let’s say a wood manufacturing facility, they have some very specific machines that are made to do one little thing. That may be drill a certain kind of hole in a certain way in proximity to another hole for another purpose that’s 90 degrees to that one. It’s not a one-size fits all machine by any means. It’s a very specific machine that does one specific job very, very well. It’s very efficient.
I think the 3D printing industry is still too much in the Jack of all trades mentality that, “Oh, we’ve got to have a machine. Yes, it needs to have a heated bed. Yes, it needs to multiple colors. Yes, it has to be this really big build platform.” All these things that if you really were serious about manufacturing with 3D printing and you knew exactly what you wanted to make, you could develop machines, spending less money, that get made and put in place faster. Maybe they didn’t even last longer doing the job that they’re doing. Because they’re not burdened with all this, think of it as extra overhead of features and functions and components that are going to get used one tenth of 1% of the time, if ever.
That’s not to say that you don’t use them to solve your problems to test your market, to do all of these things in the early days. When you start to dial in a manufacturing facility, it’s time to specialize. It’s time to go deep and time to get it right because you don’t want to be a Jack of all trades. You don’t want your machine to be a Jack of all trades and a master of none. You want it to do what you need it to do exceptionally well. That’s where the over complexity just really hurts everything. It’s not being designed for manufacturing right now. That needs to change. It’s designed more for an approach of it being able to do anything.
Number four, movement. We talk about this all the time. You create a lot of multiple points of failure when you have movement in anything. Now, we have to have the build plate move but you’ve got filament moving, build plate moving, nozzles moving. If everything is moving in the process of it, you’re creating a lot of that. Big machines are designed in manufacturing, even Jacquard looms, every point of movement is a point of failure, is a risk potentially. You have to be thinking about that. I don’t want to have to be constrained in the way these machines were built and designed originally. I can reinvent the thought process on this. I’m building a machine that doesn’t have to be shipped to me in a box, coming UPS. I can have it installed in my facility. How can I eliminate movement?
I think that that is a serious consideration. Maybe for a lot of companies interested in additive and lean manufacturing, maybe they’re not going to go manufacture their own machine. Certainly not right out of the bat. Even Feetz didn’t do that. They bought an existing machine and modified it. I actually saw that at Vocademy as well, an education environment, to make a more robust machine that can take the heavy use that goes out on in their environment, they start with a certain machine. But they hardware hack it. They beefed it up in certain ways. I think this becomes really critical.
There are different kinds of machines to think about, where the Z access, the build plate never moves in an X-Y direction, it only goes up and down. There are other 3D printers where the build plates stays down there and then the nozzle moves up, but it doesn’t move anywhere else because the build plate moves from either front and back or front and back and side to side. Then you have the polar machines, which to me are the most beautifully simple machines in terms of movement. You can put a lot of heavy stuff and have a direct drive right over that nozzle because it’s not moving X and Y all over the place. It’s just moving up and down and very, very slowly.
There are lots of things that you can consider for your particular needs, for wear and tear and durability, reliability, defect rate. In this case, it’s dialing in a combination of where your highest point failure might be in terms of defect rate and making a machine that’s not really complex that does it perfectly for what you need. That may be taking out movement in that process, taking out a variable. I have to throw in to movement also, the real Bowden style machines that have the motor pushing the filament from way in the back, arching over the top. I think that you end up getting movement that’s bad for you in terms of slop in the filament and you having to retract it a lot more, a greater distance every time, that’s distance you don’t want as well. Another thing to consider, direct drive may be better for some applications, the more flexible material. Movement is probably not your friend.
Number five, learning curve. Learning curve is really an enemy to this industry. The harder the learning curves are for new entrants into it, and I’m talking about whether you’re a student, an individual, a professional or a company, learning curve is a killer. It’s going to eat up tons of dollars and time. That’s where a really good training program, going back to that skilled labor gap that we were talking about before, a really good training program, a really good process for doing it is that you can’t lose someone in the process and then, “Wow, it’s going to take me six months to replace them and get someone new up and running.” That learning curve is the part that has to be eliminated in the process. There has to be a way to be productive while you’re learning.
Any way in which you can do that, if that’s junior positions and other things, or certain segments of your manufacturing facility where they can work on and train and then take the training courses a couple of days a week or whatever that is. You cannot have this high learning curve that takes so long that hurts your company overall if you have any kind of transition staff going in and out. That’s got to be a real tough one for businesses to wrestle with, especially existing businesses that are now looking into additive manufacturing as a new process to incorporate into their businesses. It’s got to be hard for them to wrap their heads around. Although, in some ways it shouldn’t be. A lot of times in manufacturing or even non-manufacturing businesses, there are special equipment or software or all sorts of things that do have learning curves and they have to deal with these things.
This is also an upgrade problem. You have to look at it from an upgrade. If every time there’s a firmware update, if every time there’s a software update, you all have to go through some training course to learn it all over again and figure it out. If it’s that complicated and you have that many problems, then you really probably don’t have the right manufacturing or software partner. This is always a big headache when you go to seriously upgrade and change a software engineering package. We’ve seen it happen in companies all the time, they’re like, “Okay, we’re using this software one day and now we’re going to switch to this package altogether from a new supplier.”
That is a huge productivity dip. Having something where you have a really good relationship with the manufacturers or the suppliers of whatever that is and constantly helping you through that learning curve, and maybe even helping to supplement if necessary, bring their staff in and keep your machines running while you’re training, things like that happen at various companies. But you have to plan for that. If you don’t plan for those learning curve problems, you don’t get someone in, it used to happen all the time in the weaving facilities and the big looms, is that you’d have the technical staff who were the technicians who would go around from machine to machine. Some of these were master who had been repairing these machines for 50 years. They always had a training. Because it wasn’t something we could teach you in two weeks or a month or give you a training class on. This was something you had encounter problem after problem after problem and learn overtime. There was always a hierarchy in labor there as well.
And I imagine, some redundancy. If you’re just dipping your toe into this in the industry, you’re going to have one person trained to do it, you’re in trouble. You’ve got to have at least two. You got to have a back-up, or else you’re just going to end up with down time. We discovered that the hard way here on our podcasting. We lost our assistant, our wonderful assistant, Grace. We lost her to her own future, which is perfectly understandable, but we weren’t prepared for that and that cost us a little dip here in productivity. That’s not a good thing.
Number six, layer lines. Obviously, most 3D printing processes, whether it’s FFF or resin or other things, have layers and resolutions and layer lines. I think it’s an introspective view. I think if we’re like, “Oh, it’s acceptable.” It’s not acceptable to a consumer. If a consumer can tell the difference between a 3D printed product and a non-3D printed product and they’re like, “But what is this weird texture? What’s this? Why does it have this on this?” Then you have an issue. There’s a reason why metal 3D printing is easier, is because it requires a post-finishing for the most part, at least for parts that are showing in other things, or parts that you touch. There’s always polishing and other things that happened in the process. It’s a lot more acceptable. Ceramic is glazed, it’s a lot more acceptable at the end of the day.
With FFF and with the plastic 3D printing, we don’t have that, we kind of accept those layer lines. I don’t think we can accept them. I think that Locknesters proves that you can push beyond that and makes something that’s a beautiful finish at the end of the day. Here’s the thing. I don’t think that layer lines should be a big issue because I feel that if you design the product or the object properly, and you don’t just put flat surfaces or plain surfaces on it that do show the realities of the layer lines, if you just apply using a program like a Mudbox or something that we’ve reviewed before. There are lots of programs out there that do it where you can take a model you’ve created and then apply a surface texture to it. You can really disguise those layer lines and they don’t become an eye sore on this part.
I don’t think you have to have post-finishing, but it has to transcend the layer lines. You have to move beyond that, because just get it in your head right now that it’s not acceptable to mass market. If you really want to be a lean manufacturing process printing on-demand products that come off that machine and are ready to go, then you’ve got to figure that out. I want to offer another thought here to this one, because we saw recently some 3D printed lamps that were designed by Mark Trageser, and I think printed on his own 3D printers. He went the other way. Instead of trying to make finer and finer thinner layer lines to make them not noticeable, he went big. He went thick. He was trying to make them as thick as he could and made them an element of his design.
I think with what he was doing with table standing lamps, I think actually it was quite successful. It went the other direction of, “Hey, let’s not apologize for the layer lines, let’s not try to hide or disguise them or post-finish to get rid of them. Let’s embrace them. Let’s make it an element, something that’s supposed to be here.” I appreciate that. I appreciate that from a design and artistic standpoint. I just don’t appreciate it from a manufacturing standpoint. We happen to be on that. If that means you have to solve it in post-finishing, then solve it in post-finishing. You have to be a full service facility. You have to be able to handle painting if that’s what’s required. You have to think about it like it’s putting a plastic part just like it is in any injection molding process. Those things don’t just come off the injection molding machine ready to go. You’ve got to take your spruce off. You sometimes have to paint them. All of that is just not hands-off, so let’s not say that it has to be completely hands off. Obviously, that’s a goal because we want to keep the cost down. Let’s put the cost and the time and maybe the labor into something that actually the end-consumer wants.
This also makes me think about Mold-Tech. They were these industry standards, and it still exists today, mostly for injection molds or blow molds, different kinds of molds you might use, even rotational molds, where you’d have a binder and there’s all these Mold-Tech one, two, or three, whatever, all these different defined textures that usually were made after you’d created a metal mold. Then you would have a treatment done to certain surfaces in the mold to apply a texture. Usually, it was like an acid etching process or something like that. Sometimes they had some other processes they use. The whole point of it was to add textures to the plastic services. Because even when you have a very, very flat, fine polished surface on a traditionally manufactured plastic part, that actually show some of the flaws of the molding process or the materials or the parting lines and all that sort of stuff. Having textures disguises that. That’s what they would try to do.
Obviously applying textures to something you’d 3D print, I think that’s a similar thing. I think it’s a very valid process. It’s just, to accept layer lines, the sin of accepting layer lines as being okay and like a hallmark and the part of the 3D print beauty of it, that’s just not serving manufacturing well. It may be going away more and more, if you’re willing to, and this gets at number seven a little bit, there are many 3D printers out there. I just saw an advertisement today for a Raise3D printer that does 0.01 millimeter layer thickness. Do you understand? That’s wicked thin. They were comparing 0.1, which is considered among some desktop 3D printers to be the finest quality you could do. Now, it’s 10 times thinner than that. You could hardly see any layer lines. I’m sure that print was seriously long to make the same thing. It probably took 10 times the amount of time.
That leads into our last sin of 3D printing that has to be resolved in order for it to truly be lean manufacturing. Time, process time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an unrealistic view of process time. Because process time on a 3D printer, from the time you start that print to the time you pull it off the machine and put it in a box, that’s the same amount of time as you might be doing 12 steps in another process in manufacturing where you have go from one machine, to another machine, to a finishing process, to this. You have to look at that as, overall it still has to be the same. But time is a killer on a 3D print machine if that’s your output, if that’s the whole thing. That is the biggest area you have to pay attention to. Where do you need the time and where don’t you?
I would tend to spend more time in printing on the 3D printer than I would of anything where I had to handle it with hands and do secondary operations. Even if that means you’ve got to invest in a few more 3D printers, because maybe the elapsed time of printing something might be 20 hours and you’re just like, “That’s a ridiculous amount of time.” It is, but it’s not labor. It’s not you having to do it. You invest in a machine, it has a finite return on investment. That labor, you don’t get a return on that investment. It’s not a one-time expense, it’s a continuing expense. Reduce it. You also have to look at it as repair time, down time, waiting time. All that time has to be considered in the process. Are you able to queue up prints faster? Are you able to get the prints off the machine fast enough? All of those things have to count. That’s what many are making robotic print removals, multi-build plates, whatever that process might be. You’ve got to get that all in because all of that wait time counts. From the time you’ll end one print to the time you begin the next all counts as time lost.
Time is definitely an enemy to business productivity and profitability. But not unrealistic about it. Because now, if you’re close to your delivery point, you might be in the facility at which you’re shipping out from, you don’t have trying to land something trying to bring it in overseas. You don’t have all of that time loss, so you certainly have an inventory because it solves the inventory problem. You certainly also have a transportation time assistance in the process, a benefit. That’s why I’m not unrealistic about it. I don’t think it needs to be the same amount of time it takes the injection mold apart on a machine. That’s not what I’m saying. It has to span a whole amount of time that is allocated to a cost function. You have to assess it from a cost benefit analysis and really say, “How much time is that costing us? Is that time too high or too low for this particular output?”
There’s our seven sins of 3D printing and how we can get it to lean manufacturing. We have to pay attention to all of these. It’s no different. Lean manufacturing means a constant vigilance on all of those other eight ways I talked about before. You constantly have to be looking at that, at all aspects of your manufacturing facility. These are some serious things that we have to address if we’re really going to get to an additive manufacturing model that works. I’m excited about that model. I want to continue to develop many, many more products for that model. We’ve got to get this right.
Hopefully, those seven sins are enlightening or illuminating to you and helpful. It’s helpful to me just to talk about it and think about it more. It brings it back to the forefront of my mind, which is always a good thing. How can we build a better output facility here? If we build it right here, how can we translate that into assisting others to build it? Especially if there ended up beings some of these trade wars that we’re hearing about, saber rattling going on around the world. I don’t actually think that’s going to happen so much, but I do think there are more and more opportunities to do more in manufacturing in the United States, and that’s exciting. We’ve got to be on top of all these issues. You’ve got to build it smartly. That’s what this is about.
Anyway, we hope you guys enjoyed this episode. We would love to hear your comments about it, especially if you’re in the additive manufacturing world and what you’re considering and what you’re doing. Maybe you have a few other sins on there that you’d like to add. Love to hear them. Send us a message on 3DStartPoint.com and/or do that on Facebook @3DStartPoint.
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