I believe that manufacturing industry will change. In the future, both consumer products and industrial components will no longer be manufactured in centralized mass production facilities but in local, individually centered manufacturing units. Phew! Hope I didn’t scare you off with that, but it must be said, in all bluntness…
The argument above sounds radical, but please allow me to validate it.
Megatrends Set Demands on Manufacturing Technology
The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra published in December 31st 2019 it’s view of global megatrends for the next decade (Sitra, 2019). This Megatrends List provides an interpretation of the direction of global change-related phenomena.
- Ecological reconstruction is a matter of urgency
- The population is ageing and becoming increasingly diverse
- Relational power is strengthening
- Technology is becoming embedded in everything
- The economy is seeking direction.
The state of the planet we live on, and the alarming direction it is heading in, drive us to focus more and more on available resources and how they can be used effectively and recycled. Current methods of mass production are often spelled as special tools, minimum order quantities, inability to make changes, lengthy delivery times and long logistics chains. In comparison to mass production methods, AM offers great potential as to emission reduction when the whole chain from product development to consumer distribution channels is considered.
At the same time, we are individuals. Being important, unique, noteworthy, amiable, we are all worth personalized products specially designed and manufactured just for us. Think, for example, that I’m choosing a new faucet for my kitchen. I want something extra, not the model six of my ten neighbors already purchased. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon that clients in need of a new product are forced to wait up to several months – and that is, in case everything goes relatively smoothly. By then, the need may no longer exist and there is absolutely no guarantee that the product still complies to what the client wanted. You might even say that we are talking about a “massive guessing machine”.
And what about technological development? Just one example of its prosperity are digital products with nearly limitless possibilities. Data is without doubt “the new oil”. Another example is additive manufacturing, also known as 3D-printing, and its indisputable development rate. It presents vastly more possibilities than a mere mortal can comprehend even on a best day.
Megatrends Set Demands, AM Delivers?
Here, we should definitely include AM in the picture. Not so much as a panacea to solve all problems, but more as a single essential part of the manufacturing industry of tomorrow. And just to make things clearer, here once more the characteristics of additive manufacturing. AM is:
1. Digital, digital and digital. Design and manufacturing are entirely digitalized.
This means not only that it is easy to make changes in whatever one is manufacturing, but that it is possible to redefine the entire value chain initiating in the customer’s needs.
2. Designers have free hands to shape the product, thinking about functionality and the end-user instead of technical restrictions of the production line.
A computer mouse can be tailored for the customer’s hand, a bicycle frame adjusted according to driving preferences, cogwheels optimized according to rotation speed, weight, fluid flows – You name it.
3. Very flexible as to geometry, production quantities and time
One, two or thirty-three parts. Similar, or slightly different. Today, tomorrow or in the middle of the night between Wednesday and Thursday. All these are plausible and easy to put into action.
4. Independence of place
Imagine: The whole of Finland could have just 15 printing centers scattered out evenly according to population density. Each of the centers manufactures products that the inhabitants in the area want and need; no temporary storage, no intercontinental shipping. And think of all the possibilities as to minimizing logistics emissions, delivery times and warehousing!
5. Minimal waste materials
In the planning phase, material is designed and added solely in places where it is motivated according to functionality. Consequently, the production includes no automatic leftover material at all, a drawback so characteristic for material-removal processes. On the other hand, even AM production does include some waste, that is, a few percent depending on materials and technologies applied. Nevertheless, the waste is often recycled and re-used during the following production cycle.
Comparing these global megatrends with the characteristics above, it is easy to understand why AM could – and should! – be implemented in practice in as broad a scale as possible.
Earlier in this text I argued that from a client’s view, mass production of today is a massive guessing machine. Next, let’s take a solution-centered approach and look at this more closely in the following blog.
Sitra. (2019, 12 31). Megatrendit 2020. Retrieved from Sitra: https://www.sitra.fi/julkaisut/megatrendit-2020/