Today, there is a better understanding of 3D printing technology. Support for prototypes or POCs is widespread. Yet, many organizations struggle to move beyond the experimentation phase. Change management is difficult but a horizontal and cross-functional approach is key to succeed with this type of digital transformation. How do you ensure adoption and prepare to scale the technology?
Culture and strategy must be aligned
Whenever we talk with a company’s leadership, we try to get a good understanding of their strategy and whether their company culture supports it. This will impact how fast they can scale AM internally. Does the company’s “mindset” support innovation and the adoption of new technologies? Who are the key stakeholders and how can they help to drive innovation forward? Are people open to change? How can you inspire action and translate your strategy into a cultural message?
These are important questions to address with your team. You should consider the risks involved in changing your company’s workflow and have an open conversation about your team’s concerns. You should also bear in mind that there will be a learning curve along the way.
In some cases, project leaders have leeway to make mistakes. Others prefer to avoid risks and spend more time evaluating each step in the process. In both of these situations, major issues can be avoided by picking the right use cases from the start and working with a partner or vendors that will support you as you scale.
Focus on solving a problem
The best way to help your team build confidence in AM technology is to focus on solving a specific problem. For our customers, this often means selecting the right parts to produce with AM. In most cases, companies come to us because they have an existing supply chain issue. For instance, they need to secure a part to minimize downtime on aging assets but the part is no longer available through traditional suppliers, or perhaps they cannot accurately predict the demand for a component and want to avoid overstocking. OEMs, for example, are typically required to keep spare and repair parts in their inventory, but having excess stock results in unnecessary costs. Not to mention the environmental toll of scrapping. Other organizations are struggling to secure repair parts for assets with high lifecycle costs. Instead of purchasing an entirely new unit because they fail to obtain a component for repairs, they choose to produce a spare part when it’s needed.
Their mentality is not “we are looking for a 3D printed part.” Instead it’s “how can new manufacturing technologies help us solve an existing problem?” This mindset makes a world of difference to facilitate adoption. It also makes it easier to identify the metrics you want to improve and understand the foundation you need to build in order to scale.
Provide data points to facilitate cross-functional alignment
Speaking of metrics, if you want to scale AM internally, you need to have the workflow and internal processes to support it. The people involved (usually engineers, quality control and purchasing) have different interests. Aligning these interests can be difficult, but data can play a powerful role in facilitating this.
Purchasing is, in most cases, looking to acquire a part at the lowest possible price with the shortest lead time, while engineering wants flexibility and freedom of design. With AM, the price for an individual part may be higher but you should take Total Cost of Ownership into account. Is it cheaper to print the part on demand instead of ordering a large quantity you’ll end up holding in stock for several years and eventually scrapping?
We’ve noticed that being able to analyze thousands or even millions of data points to select the parts that are most suited for AM helps teams get much-needed alignment. Discussing these data points and extracting insights becomes a helpful exercise and results in a transversal approach. Colleagues who previously did not interact suddenly speak to each other and collaborate more closely. A company we work with was able to identify that it only makes sense to invest in molds when their demand forecast exceeds 1,000 parts. 3D printing was a viable and cheaper alternative as their expected demand was much lower. All of this was possible by simply facilitating conversations around data. Transversal thinking between departments is key to energize your AM project (as well as others) and will make scalability much easier.
Provide training and educational resources
Although there is a better understanding of AM on the whole and expectations are much better aligned with the industry’s reality nowadays, education is extremely important. Project leaders often have to deal with IP-related issues, quality control and choosing the right AM materials. Training your team on the possibilities will help this process go smoothly.
Intellectual property is always a concern. Make sure your team understands what’s legal and what’s not. Work with vendors that have end-to-end encryption so your data and designs are secure.
On the quality front, there are also challenges. AM production lacks the standards than most traditional manufacturing technologies have. So quality approval often needs to happen at the material level or individual part level. The best way to address this is to work with partners who can coach your team on the type of materials and technologies to use, and offer them a way to perform quality control tests (such as fire resistance tests, coloring tests, or stress tests).
Raising difficult questions is a good thing but this should not withhold you from trying AM. The question is no longer if AM will be part of industrial supply chains, it’s rather when this will happen. To poise your project for success and ensure scalability, make sure your team is aligned, on board with your strategy and has access to training and resources. Learning by doing is how most companies succeed at implementing and scaling 3D printing. It helps to work with a partner you can rely on during your journey.
This article was originally published in our Medium blog.