How to Know If Digital Manufacturing Is Right for Your Application
Wondering if 3D printing could help your business grow and be more profitable?3D design and printing has changed product design, development, manufacturing, and retail distribution. It is now considered an important integral part of a sustainable supply chain and business operation. But before diving in deep, it helps to understand whether it really is the right solution for you. In this episode, Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard talk about why every business should get a 3D printing expert evaluation to see if your business should transition over to using this disruptive technology. Listen in on this conversation to find the guidance you need in considering what adopting digital manufacturing can do for your brand, company, and bottom line.
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Why Every Business Should Get a 3D Printing Expert Evaluation
We’re going to talk about something that we are passionate about. Every business should get a 3D printing expert evaluation. They should see if it’s right for their business. We’ve talked to a lot of people who thought their business is not, and they’re in party supplies. We said, “What if you did this? Wouldn’t that be more efficient?”There’s a whole host of different industries who haven’t even considered 3D printing as a possibility, and yet it would be perfect for some of the applications, some of the customer needs they have, some of the costs they need to start saving, some of the time and energy and transportation costs of what they are going on in there. This is going to be one of those repurposed episodes. Those episodes where we’ve taken content that we created before and we’re representing it to you, re-editing it into this, but we want to add a little context on the front here.
The first bit of context that we want to add is looking at this in terms of our global situation and how things are happening in the world. We talk about prototyping materials, lowering product lines and SKUs, inventory levels, operational efficiency and design needs. We need to add transport costs, sustainability, looking at that supply chain management side of it is also one that probably needs to be added, and we should address right up here at the beginning,
Supply chain management is key in a new way and something new that I want to bring to this episode now that we didn’t talk about when we did the first version of this episode. I have a real-world example I want to share with you now. I can even have some photos relevant to this project. We experienced a need ourselves to have a custom punch and die made for a certain application for our existing business. That’s something that was going to make us efficient. What I did was I went and looked up any companies here in the United States that make punch and die combinations. What I found, surprisingly, is that businesses that made the exact right type of die and punch for our application existed.
There was a company in Colorado in particular that does it, but they were still stuck in not only traditional development and manufacturing of a die and punch, but they were also focused on their existing supply chain of having these dies and punches made over in China. When it came to getting one that was custom made and it had all slightly different for a new custom application, slightly different size and shape, it’s relatively simple variations. I’m not saying the products are simple because they’re not. They said,“All of our dies and punches come over from China. Unless that factory is going to make a variation, we’re not going to buy it, and getting a custom one would be tens of thousands of dollars of development and effort and such a long timeline.”I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Where have you guys been?” I said, “I’m going to solve our own needs and disrupt this situation.” I went and copied an existing die and punch format, structure and created that little different design, shape and size application that they could have easily done. I was able to 3D print that in metal manufacturing of a one-off customer punch and die. That’s a good example of how you don’t have to accept that,“I can’t do it,” where it’s going to be this big barrier to entry for traditional processes.
This is where a business like that could evaluate that and said, “Is there a big need out there?” Maybe there wasn’t a big need. Maybe that’s not a perfect example. You discovered that there isn’t a big need, but let’s say you’re getting a lot of phone calls in your business for these questions of, “Can you make a modification? Can you do this? Can you do that?”Your answer is constantly no because your supply chain isn’t capable of it or your own manufacturing process isn’t capable of going in and making a small run or going in and making personalized and customized solutions. This is a perfect opportunity to get that evaluation and say, “Is there a 3D print application that’s right for me?”
We did that interview with Wes Kramer. We were talking about post-processing a lot, but he’s an applications engineer. They have application engineers at HP and at many other companies that are able to go in and evaluate for you the right type of solution. Is there a solution out there for the type of problem that you’re having or for the type of opportunity that you might have in terms of being able to offer brand-new solutions to your customers in terms of customization? They’re able to evaluate that in terms of materials and surfaces because you’ve got to match the surfaces. Post-processing matters whether or not this is going to be cost-effective for you. All of those things need to be evaluated in the process.
I love the idea of this. I think its always a good idea to sit back and have an analysis of your industry, your business, your product line and all of the parts and pieces within your company and say, “Are we doing the most innovative thing we could be doing that is creating a great future plan for us to keep growing, to keep serving our community, to keep serving our clients, our customers, whoever they might be and looking at that?”That’s how digital manufacturing might be right for your application is to go get a 3D print expert evaluation. They’ve offered us up a couple of options at HP that I want to mention here that are no obligation solutions, but things that you can go check out. They have a full list of their partner network in which you can go through there and you can evaluate the different partners that they have.
If you’re maybe looking for a service bureau, you’re looking for a metal manufacturer, some things where you might be able to say, “I want to test something out and try something myself. Let me start there.” They’ve got a list for us. They have application engineers and people that are already there to come to connect with you. If you want to learn more about the technology, if you have an application that you think might be suitable for Multi-Jet Fusion or any of their processes, and if you want to have a 3D printing expert contact you, they’ve offered that up as an opportunity for our readers.
It warrants a little more emphasis on this application engineer situation because at HP, we know from speaking with them about it with Wes is that this is somebody’s full-time job to help you as a business, evaluate and understand is this a good fit for you? Will this work in your application? You don’t have to have an internal resource to figure this out before you reach out to a company and find out if this is going to be a benefit for you. It’s their job to do that full-time. Please, reach out. This is available to you.
In this episode that we’re going to share for you now, you’re going to read about our areas that we think are right for evaluation. We want to add to that the idea of sustainable supply chains for mass customization, those couple of areas that we talked about here. There are many different things for you to be thinking about and thinking about everything in our businesses are being up in the air. They’re up for negotiation. They’re up for evaluation. Is there an area that important to you that you could be doing more on, you can be more profitable in, you can serve more customers with, you could be serving maybe even in a more remote distribution situation or a local distribution situation? That where we want you to be able to read this and see if maybe a 3D printing expert evaluation is right for you.
Why Every Business Should Get a 3D Printing Expert Evaluation – originally aired on October 25, 2016
After our episode where we talked about the possibility of disruptive technology really changing an industry, what got us talking and thinking and debating about whether or not every business ought to have an evaluation and whether that is some advisory service or an expert review from a design standpoint. We’ve done a couple of these just taking a look at people’s product lines and saying, “Does it make sense for you to do a 3D print run? Can you do a specialized program with this? Should we start slower or do a limited run to begin with?” We’ve been looking at it as expert evaluating products, but also as evaluating businesses. Thinking about it, whether or not it’s saving you money from a prototype standpoint like, “Are you spending too much money on that? Should you be shifting over to using 3D printing for that, either in house or with a service?”
That may be just scratching the surface though. Let’s face it, there are a great many manufacturing techniques, methods and equipment that have not changed all that much in 100 years. Seriously, think about injection molding. I don’t know the exact date that injection molding machines first started, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the early 20th century, whether 1920 or ‘30s, somewhere in there is at least when it was happening. Take metal machining, metal lids, metal milling machines. These things have been around for a very long time. I think you can track a lot of modern manufacturing equipment to the availability of electric motors and electricity that came in a major way in the early 20th century. While yes, there are computers that have advanced what those machines can do and computer-controlled milling machines, CNC machines, that changed things. Still, at the end of the day, you are milling metal or you’re milling wood or you’re molding plastic or forming plastic and stamping metal and forming metal, all that. There hasn’t been a major new manufacturing player on the scene that has changed things as much as 3D printing has, or can. The capability is here and that has changed.
That’s what we want to caution here, that’s what’s we’re talking about is the fact that you may be thinking that it’s too early and you’re going to wait it out and see, but you may find yourself out of business in the process, and for so many reasons. That’s why you should find ways to evaluate it and walk into it, so that you can see if your industry or your product line or your business model or your design process, all of those things, are right for a 3D print transition. Whether or not you should be bringing those things in house, whether or not you should be using service bureaus. It’s time for you to evaluate five areas of the company. That’s what I have come to in my mind. Five areas that it’s time to get a 3D print expert evaluation. There’s probably more, but those are the key ones for me.
I think the first one is very obvious, your prototyping process. It’s not just, in my mind, from what we’ve been learning and what we’ve been doing for many years now. It’s not just that, it’s the length of time it takes you to prototype. It’s whether or not you’re doing a lot of design iterations. It’s the cost of all of those things. There’s a whole bunch of factors into whether or not you need to evaluate. It’s not just whether or not you should put a 3D printer in. It’s the overall process of prototyping that needs to be looked at and evaluated. We looked at it from the standpoint on, “Does this make sense for some of our furniture clients? When you’re talking about very large machines and we need a very large 3D printer and does this make sense?” From our standpoint, it didn’t make sense in that particular case because we could prototype faster with the processes we were currently using and we had all the things we possibly needed and the cost was down. It didn’t make sense. That doesn’t mean in your business that it won’t make sense. It’s time for you to look at that. Whether or not you have looked at it in the past, it’s time for you to look at it again and this time with a 3D print expert to guide you.There are industries who haven't considered #3Dprinting, and yet it would be so perfect to save time, energy, and transportation costs. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
The second thing is expansion of materials. It’s time to be looking at the possibility that the way that you were making something before, you were unable to use materials that had particular properties. Or the way that you are manufacturing something has limited your capabilities in terms of properties of materials. Just looking and evaluating what you can make and what properties you wish you had might be a key way to say, “It’s time for me to test this out,” without going in full force into rebuilding something, remaking something. “Let’s test this out and see if there is either market viability for it or functionality viability or time to change my product up.” The product line is the most important one you can get a 3D print expert evaluation on because the design of the product, that would be number three. The design product, how you’re designing products, whether or not the products have the characteristics like we were talking about in the sports equipment episode. Now is your time to be able to build in user-focused features and functions that you are no longer manufacturing constrained out of being able to design for. Taking a look at your product line, but taking a look at it from a competitive risk assessment,“Can my industry or my product line be disrupted by an upstart who just starts 3D printing?” That’s a really scary idea.
This is not only something that you should consider looking at in terms of your business because of this new technology. I think it’s even more dire than that. If you, as a business, are not looking at this, I think you are making yourself vulnerable to attack from another company that’s going to come and eat your lunch. While you’re thinking you’re a healthy company because you have all these assets, you’ve invested in all this equipment, then you’re doing well with it year-over-year.
What if your assets are now dinosaurs and the best that they can do is gather dust in some museum? They’re no longer valuable. You can’t sell them for near what you bought them for in the used equipment market. Beyond that, that would be the worst situation because that’s at the end of life and you’re liquidating your company because you don’t have a business anymore. I’m talking about somebody else taking away market share because they’re offering something you haven’t even considered.
Hand-in-hand with that product line evaluation is the 80/20 rule for me. The idea that you may be carrying too much inventory in your product line on things that may be serving you well from being a market presentation like, “I want to have these things because they show well in the marketplace and they attract customers to me.” At the end of the day, nobody’s buying them. Having an ability to offer a mixed line between 3D printed on demand for those cool things that maybe an extended lead time, like an extra day, we’re not talking about months. Not having any inventory carrying on those products and then having a heavy inventory on the ones that you know are going to sell 80% of the volume. That in and of itself is a super cost savings measure that could change the profitability outcome of your business instantly. That’s where looking at 3D printing from an investment standpoint is. I lumped that all in product.
On number four, I want to talk a little bit further about that operational efficiency. You might be getting operational efficiency. You might need to head to a zero-waste idea or low waste because it’s not totally zero either in 3D printing. In some capacities, there are. There are lower ways to have other types of things that you need to do. You need to look at that from an operation standpoint, like inventory balancing, inventories and operational improvement, having less warehouse space, having less carrying costs. All of those things operational improvements, if that can come from switching over a portion of your line to 3D printing, could be a tremendous difference to your bottom line. There again, expert evaluation. Looking at the return on investment and the cost balancing of that. It’s a different cost model, one that’s not so clear to you because your cost to goods might be higher but your carrying costs might be zero. People don’t understand that. I can tell you, I spent a whole week with a bunch of entrepreneurs, trying to explain to them why having inventory for three months is more costly. They need to discount that product and get it out of there faster, that their turns count more than anything else that they can possibly do. You have to run the math for them to get them to see it and understand it.
Number five is the obvious one and that’s design. It’s obvious that it’s going to change the way we design and it is already changing the way we design. Its capabilities are strong. You have to be looking at those stacking S-Curves. We talk about that all the time. What is your future? Where is your advanced research? Where is that going? Maybe that doesn’t mean that you have somebody in house to be looking at that for you. I love the Moxie model with John Rich because that set up a precedent that you could have someone who’s already an expert in 3D printing analyzing it and looking at it and saying, “Is this right for my business? Is this right for my product? Is this right for my customers?” and not be having to bring this in house and spend years in advanced research. First off, getting your feet wet and then getting a capability in 3D printing and then figuring that out. The flip side of that is it’s almost easier and better to have it be an outside perspective.
That is so underrated an opportunity for existing businesses to have a fresh set of eyes come in from the outside and take a look and analyze and make suggestions. I think companies don’t realize it and they get so closed off. You have, again, that not-invented-here syndrome is certainly a big problem as well with them. You get set in your ways. You have blinders on, you have paradigms. As an efficiency move for a company., you’re the owner of a company, you can assign someone to champion a project and go and do research and get it done. It will not get done as fast or as well as if you hire someone from the outside who has that expertise and knowledge already. Because they have to learn everything from the industry and then they have to apply it and then they have to honestly be performing for you. There’s that pressure. In advanced research, it’s just not a pay for performance job. That weights on a lot of people, that pressure to do that.
The best way to do it if you’re going to do it internally and not hire outside experts, is to build a Skunk Works of sorts within your company that is on an island or in a silo, to be able to do it without the day-to-day pressures of the rest of the business and the performance requirements, etc.
If you’re not that big or if you are just concerned about, “I’ve got to have a future business plan. I’ve got to make sure that I’m future-focused on where I’m going and all this investment money that I’ve taken in or this investment in time and my profits that I’ve built into my own business. Is it going to have longevity? Am I at risk?” This is the time for you. This is the perfect time actually as the market is shifting. This is time for you to get that 3D print expert evaluation or that assessment if you want. Have somebody come in, give an evaluation, give a report on where they see it going, how you fit within that, how your business fits within that.
I think every business needs to realize, doing this kind of evaluation or getting an expert analysis is an insurance policy of sorts.I look at it as, in a way, you’re talking about how do you value your company? This is fuzzy math at best, don’t get me wrong. People who do valuations for startups or for investment, that’s pretty fuzzy math on the whole. The reality is that the risk assessment side of it is very telling. When you look at a valuation of a company, what forms it the most is how at risk you are of success, of competition, of market penetration. All of those things are out there. That’s the same thing here. How at risk are you for maintaining your current market position or market value, your cost efficiencies and all of those things compared to new entrants, early entrants or even other businesses who were smarter and got invested faster into this than you did?
You don’t want to be behind the 8 ball. It’s bad place to be. You want to be a leader, not a follower. You don’t also want to be the leader who’s out there in front, paving all the way and educating everyone in the process because that is an expensive proposition. You want to follow at the right moment. It’s a different between the leading edge and the bleeding edge. We hope you found this of interest. Thanks for reading. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
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