Bringing additive manufacturing capabilities inhouse make sense if you’re looking to familiarize yourself with this new and emerging manufacturing technique, and better understand its industry applications. PHOTO courtesy Burloak Technologies.
Bringing additive manufacturing (AM) machines in-house is one way to streamline your manufacturing efforts, but it’s not for everyone. To determine whether it makes sense for your organization, it’s important to fully understand when in-house AM can strengthen your organization.
Burloak Technologies explores the pros and cons of each option in a new report Make Vs Buy E Book | Burloak Technologies (samuel.com). Included below are the highlights from the in-house perspective:
Gain a better understanding of the technology
If you want to familiarize yourself with this new and emerging manufacturing technique, and better understand its industry applications, bringing AM in-house is one way to get a grasp on its costing models, business processes and manufacturing processes, while building some in-house competency. For instance, there are large OEMs out there that have full-fledged Additive Manufacturing centers—but they have no intention to use them to manufacture their parts, because that doesn’t fit into their business model. Rather, they use their in-house AM facilities to better understand how this technology can work within their end products and meet their evolving needs. At the same time, they are building out a supply chain of AM providers, like Burloak, to do scalable manufacturing when the time comes.
Conduct development work
In-house AM can work well for companies in the product development phase as it allows them to experiment, benchmark and iterate proprietary designs. It should be noted, however, that doing developmental work in-house is still a significant investment, which is why many companies leave that, along with scalable production, to trusted AM service providers.
Accelerate design cycles
By keeping AM machines close to in-house engineers, these team members have more flexibility to iterate the designs, print prototypes and better understand the technology. That said, this type of set-up isn’t wellsuited to product scalability, as you need much more than a couple of printers to build qualified AM parts.
Secure supply chains
Some companies want to streamline their supply chains by conducting all their AM in-house. This typically only works if it fits into your business model— and success really depends on the industry and application. Some industries simply cannot afford to do everything in house. For these companies, singlesourcing or multi-sourcing might make more sense and achieve the same goal.
Very high investment costs
Metal AM systems don’t come cheap. In many cases, upfront investment costs are millions of dollars— with individual printers costing between $1 million to $2 million alone. On top of this, there are downstream services to consider—such as precision machining, heat treatment, quality assurance and materials labs. It’s therefore important for companies to do the math upfront and make sure they have a strong business case for AM before investing in the technology.
AM is about more than printing parts. You also need qualified professionals who can design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM), select and characterize the appropriate powder, invest in post-processing (which includes steps like machining, surface finishing and heat treatment), ensure quality control and assurance— and the list goes on. Given the costs and expertise associated with these additional processes, most companies must outsource them, negating many of the benefits of in-house AM.
Shortage of expertise
DfAM and printer operation both require unique professional skillsets which aren’t easy to come by. While the industry is advancing, it’s still very nascent, making it difficult to find trained professionals to bolster your in-house team. Without these qualified professionals, you run the risk of costly mistakes, such as missed design or production guidelines. Because of this, outsourcing may be a better way to familiarize yourself with the technology and eliminate risks arising from a lack of experience.
On top of risks associated with equipment breakdown, AM technology is continuously evolving, as printer manufacturers are constantly trying to meet demands for scalability. For instance, for Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF), manufacturers consistently add more lasers and increase the size of build envelopes. To make sure your AM technology remains cutting-edge and in good repair, continuous investment must be part of your long-term strategy—and you must budget for regular equipment and system maintenance as well.
For the Burloak Technologies analysis on when it makes sense to outsource AM capabilities, see our story: Should you bring Additive Manufacturing in-house or outsource it? – Shop Metalworking Technology (shopmetaltech.com)
For the full report go to: Make Vs Buy E Book | Burloak Technologies (samuel.com)