How additive manufacturing (AM) could save us.
As this is written the coronavirus has disrupted the world supply chain? This could bring domestic manufacturing to a full stop in some instances. Why?
I will use domestic auto manufacturing as an example. World wide auto parts sales in 2018 totaled US$412.1B. A significant percentage of those parts were exported from the part manufacturing country and imported by the final product manufacturing country. To put that in perspective, 48.3% of those auto parts were made in Europe, with Germany dominating. Asia came in second at 29.3%. North America produced 21%, although taken as individual countries, America was second behind Germany. I expected China to be in the top three.
The point is, when cars are made in America the parts come from North America and multiple exporting nations. For example, the aluminum wheels on my, made in America, Mustang GT came from China. If that specific part’s supply chain had gotten cut off, well, you can’t roll a car out of the factory without wheels. Last week I talked to an executive of Shelby American and they can’t get a Ford Pickup truck model because of guess what? Chinese made aluminum wheels. The lack of availability of a single part can shut down an assembly line in every type of factory.
As this is written China, South Korea, Japan, and Italy are countries where the coronavirus has or most assuredly will disrupt manufacturing for many industries. As this is written Fortune magazine reported, “Nearly 75% of companies are seeing capacity disruptions in their supply chains as a result of coronavirus-related transportation restrictions, according to an Institute for Supply Management survey published Wednesday.
ADVANTAGE of Domestic AM vs Globalized Sourcing of Parts
In the past two years AM technology has advanced dramatically and 2020 is shaping up to be a breakout year. We are looking at AM equipment purchases that will allow our company’s AM to dramatically expand the quality, durability, quantity, diversity, and competitive pricing for end-use products. We will be able to produce products made from almost every available thermoplastic and metal. We will then have the capability to produce these products in quantities and sizes never before thought possible. As an example, one printer can produce a wide range of metals with an X-axis up to 31.5” or 800mm. Another can produce thermoplastics with a Z axis up to 14’ or 4.25 meters. And both these printers print with detail better than 50 μm.
By the 3rd quarter of 2020 with the proper funding we will have the ability to produce and replace imported thermoplastic and metal parts that are no longer subject to disruption in the global supply chain.
Some of the advantages of domestic AM:
Production can be located near manufacturers
Does not require a typical production line in a large manufacturing facility, but can be distributed into multiple smaller shops.
Manufacturing can begin with a small initial start-up investment and ramped up rapidly as justified by demand. The ramp-up can be funded by borrowing against purchase orders.
Capacity can be ramped up incrementally because AM is infinitely scalable. AM has begun with one or two AM printers and evolved to over 30
AM parts can be designed and produced that are superior to parts made with traditional manufacturing. They can be made lighter, stronger, and more visually appealing.
AM can be used to support traditional manufacturing by producing custom tools, molds, jigs, and fixtures. A tool steel injection mold made with AM can be produced in less than a week, rather than two months for traditional tool-steel molds. It can be sold at a profit for a small fraction of the cost of a traditionally manufactured mold.
AM, by its nature, is significantly automated. Even none automated post-production and finishing tasks can also automated. This all leads to dramatically reducing labor costs. It was those labor costs that lead to the trend of off-shoring domestic manufacturing. The good news is this automation will result in reversing that trend. The bad news is it will not have a dramatic effect of bringing back the number of manufacturing jobs that were lost of off-shoring.
AM can begin the gradual transition to restoring domestic manufacturing.