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Reducing the Cost of Production in Additive Manufacturing
The best manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to reduce their operating costs while maintaining quality. Lowering costs means higher profit margins.
When it comes to Additive Manufacturing, some costs are unavoidable, such as buying equipment and raw materials, but others can be mitigated. By managing the production process effectively, the biggest sources of scrap, waste, and rework can be reduced.
The Costs of Additive Manufacturing
When you are planning a project or bidding on a job, it’s crucial to factor in your costs of production, especially if it means adding to your current workforce, materials, or equipment costs. These include:
- Part complexity
You won’t be able to avoid all these costs, of course, but you can reduce some of them with good management.
Labor is usually one of the top two cost drives for all manufacturers. It can also be one of the largest variables if you aren’t tightly managing your Additive Manufacturing process.
Raw materials may be a commodity-based purchase, though the quality can also be a variable. AM needs high-quality materials to create quality items, and you don’t always know what you’re getting until it arrives and you start working with it.
How sophisticated a part is, the number of production steps, the process to produce the final design, and post-processing will add to costs for any Additive Manufacturing process.
Some projects may require fixed tools and dies by machine before multiple cast parts can be made. Die casting, urethane vacuum casting, or injection molding may require different machinery or retooling to accommodate the AM process.
The volume of builds also determines the pricing. In Additive Manufacturing, you may not see the savings that you normally would in traditional manufacturing, but volume will play a role in the cost of production, one way or another.
Managing Additive Manufacturing Quality
The key to reducing costs and increasing efficiency in Additive Manufacturing is repeatability. To create a cost-efficient AM operation, you must have the right equipment, a skilled workforce, and the right software to manage the production pathway.
Even if you’ve done a solid job on your project planning and cost projections, human error, scrap, waste, and rework can drastically cut your profit margins and in rare cases, make an Additive Manufacturing project unprofitable.
In Additive Manufacturing, it is especially important to control quality from start to finish. While many companies look at quality control (QC) as expensive, an investment in QC is the key to making operations more efficient and reducing overall costs.
For many manufacturers, the cost of quality management is seen as an expense that’s only necessary to maintain compliance or satisfy customers. They don’t view it as beneficial from an operational or efficiency standpoint.
Too often, Additive Manufacturers accept poor quality and lower margins due to these factors:
- Poor QC programs are reactive.
- Quality issues are discovered only after the fact or when they cause problems.
- QC teams are too busy putting out fires to work proactively.
The American Society for Quality (ASQ) suggests that the cost of quality is between 15% and 40% of sales for organizations. That’s a big difference—and a big opportunity. If you can’t produce high-quality AM parts consistently, you likely won’t be in the Additive Manufacturing business for long. Either customers will turn elsewhere because you are missing deadlines or producing nonconforming parts, or the cost of scrap, waste, and rework will make it impossible to continue.
Driving QC directly to the production floor will improve quality and reduce the cost of production. It will reduce the amount of scrap, waste, and rework that cut into profits.
QC and strong process discipline help create the consistent and repeatable processes that AM demands. This is vital to efficient manufacturing operations. It takes discipline and structure to your production pathway and a robust process to identify and correct nonconformances at the earliest possible moment. It also takes commitment to dig deep enough to identify the root cause of failures rather than just treat the symptoms.
With the right software to manage your production pathway, you can produce quality parts and control your costs.
The Problem with Manual Processes
Manual processes remain one of the biggest challenges in Additive Manufacturing. In highly-detailed procedures, the stakes are simply too high to trust manual data entry and paperwork. Manual processes lead to inefficiency and costly errors, such as:
- Lost or misplaced documentation
- Outdated documentation
- Missed variances
- Human error
- More rework
Add to that the lost time for operators due to tracking down paperwork or verifying that it’s accurate, and it can get expensive quickly. For many Additive Manufacturers, using a manual process is one of the major causes of cost overruns, nonconforming parts, and missed deadlines. Also, a manual process lets the production team develop bad habits that only exacerbate the problems.
Tracking nonconformance becomes difficult when you’re tracking things manually. It can be difficult to recognize problems during production, effectively communicate CAPAs, and create repeatable high-quality processes. Treating the symptoms, rather than the root cause, can lead to more downtime for inspections and recalibrating, as well as additional testing.
It’s especially tricky in Additive Manufacturing because a nonconformance can get covered up by subsequent layers if it’s not corrected.
How to Improve Quality and Reduce Costs
Reducing the cost of production in Additive Manufacturing and overcoming challenges is essential for growth. However, investing in quality and employing a manufacturing execution and quality management system (MES + QMS) software solution can help.
In a recent survey, 62% of operators agreed that they need more reliable technologies for efficient AM operations. They rated it as the number-one thing holding back their companies from consistently producing high quality and optimizing the cost of production. At the same time, many shops that deploy Additive Manufacturing find that they are frustrated with the lack of MES/QMS options and find it difficult to maintain quality. Some try to use MES or QMS systems that aren’t built for the Additive Manufacturing process or they try to adapt ERP or MRP systems, only to find that they lack the functionality needed for automating the AM process.
“Most of the MRP and ERP systems that are out there were designed for a subtractive manufacturing process, and they don’t have the capability to track things that are in an additive manufacturing process,” says Ron Beltz, Director of Strategic Accounts at Bluestreak | Bright AM.
The solution to increasing the efficiency of Additive Manufacturing shops is implementing a dedicated MES + QMS combination that’s built specifically for the AM industry. Adopting the right MES + QMS solution can automate many manual tasks and eliminate mistakes from manual processes.
The Bluestreak | Bright AM Solution for Additive Manufacturers
Bluestreak | Bright AM’s innovative and extensible MES/QMS provides the granular level of control that you need over the entire production pathway. This allows a paperless workflow that makes sure everyone knows exactly what to do at every step of the way—from the office to the shop floor and outside vendors, if necessary.
Bluestreak | Bright AM’s end-to-end management system provides the three keys to improving quality and maintaining cost controls:
The real-time, paperless workflow ensures that everyone knows exactly what to do throughout the production process, from the staff in the front office to individual operators on the shop room floor. It eliminates inaccurate information or information silos that lead to errors.
Improve Communication, Minimize Waste, and Reduce Errors
The Bluestreak | Bright AM solution for Additive Manufacturers will improve communication, minimize waste, and reduce errors, delays, and rework. By analyzing workflow with the built-in traceability and trackability to identify conflicts in process, quality issues are recognized more quickly and corrective/preventative action can be taken earlier in the process. This saves time and money and increases quality.
Managing the entire production pathway allows for adjustments to be made in real time with live data. It also enables you to track direct costs, such as labor and machine time, and indirect costs, such as maintenance and calibration checks. It all adds up to greater agility and the ability to more easily control the cost of production.
Employ a Lean Manufacturing Strategy
This system provides for a lean manufacturing strategy by spotting trends quickly and providing operators with instant feedback, so any out-of-tolerance conditions can be remedied before the next stage begins. Real-time test results are shared with everyone in the production pathway.
Risk Analysis Reduces Your Liability
When you are bidding on a job, Bluestreak | Bright AM’s risk analysis can reduce your liability. You can set risk thresholds before an AM job is quoted and assess risk throughout the design and build process. This can help ensure that you don’t underbid a project that could negatively affect your profit margins.
Manage Audits Effortlessly
Because the entire process is in real time and all data is recorded, it can dramatically reduce the time that it takes to conduct audits for customers or compliance. Everything’s consolidated in one platform, including certifications and qualifications.
“We’ve heard from auditors that say it cut their audit times in half,” Beltz says. “Where sometimes they might be onsite for a company for a whole week, with Bluestreak | Bright AM, they might be there only a day and a half.”
Reducing the Cost of Production in Additive Manufacturing
You can reduce the cost of production in Additive Manufacturing and improve your quality at the same time. Contact Bluestreak | Bright AM today for more information. If your service includes Additive Manufacturing, we provide specific solutions in our Bright AM software. To request an Additive Manufacturing software demo, click here!