Posted by: productivityinc | March 19, 2013

Additive Manufacturing: Revolution, Ultimate Lean, or Fad?

Since the caveman making his first tool we have used the concept of subtractive manufacturing to create the mass of objects we use daily from toys to aircraft. Starting with a base of our chosen material we carve out and discard or recycle what we don’t need and use what’s left in our products. The amount of material we discard is vastly variable but often surpasses that which is actually used. Additive Manufacturing reBP319verses that concept by using only the material that is in the final product.

From the revolution standpoint, additive manufacturing is likely the most significant disruptive method improvement in a million years. From the Lean and Green standpoint, it’s the pinnacle of material waste reduction and the ultimate of “make what you need when you need it.” From the Fad standpoint, while some visionary uses like complete buildings and human hearts may  require considerable time, the momentum on even the current uses and materials employed appears to be too credible and too far along in the technology development cycle to qualify as temporary.

The technique behind Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing, tracks back to the 1980’s and the introduction of ink jet printers. The innovation was in substituting various types of materials into the “printing “process. The barrier to entry to obtain the capability of using 3D Printing for three dimensional items has receded to be affordable for almost any organization.

Current applications range from R&D prototyping, one-off production, restoration projects and, to an extent, volume production. Industry use ranges from consumer products to aerospace to biotechnology and healthcare.

Our Lean Leader responsibility is to be familiar with the technology through the extensive resource library available to us. Its content is vast, from academic studies to TED Talks. Information is also available from current 3D Printing provider companies such as 3D Systems (www.3dsystems.com, who recently opened store in Manhattan),   Stratasys Ltd.(www.stratasys.com), and MakerBot  (www.makerbot.com).

Our challenge as Lean implementers is to be aware of the advances in 3D Printing technology and investigate how we can use it to enhance our own product development, products and business models. We need to determine if and where it will add value, reduce costs and compress lead times.

Sound Off…I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this technology and what you feel it offers to your business.  Post a comment or send me an e-mail, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Paul McGrath, Senior Management Consultant, Productivity Inc. – pmcgrath@productivityinc.com


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