Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Production for Seamless Workflow Management

09 February 2017
workflow management

Successful workflow management in additive manufacturing relies on a smooth, effortless data flow, from the initial customer request, right through to the delivery of the finished product. For many bureaus, this means that multiple workflows must be brought into alignment to form a single, seamless process, something that often proves easier said than done…

In most project workflows, once a sales team has prepared and delivered a quote to a customer and had this turn into an order, the sales process ends and production scheduling begins. This hand-over point must be handled carefully if errors are to be avoided and targets met. Typically, this remains a manual (possibly paper-based) process, with job sheets created and annotated, customer files and requirements lists pulled from the network for review, and the correct orientation and build packing for printing established based on this.

However, problems can arise at this transitional stage if an effective flow of communication has not been established between the sales and production areas of the business, particularly with regards to project data. Production requirements should therefore be considered as part of the quotation process in order to make effective use of the available build space and successfully manage customer expectations. And that makes it essential that salespeople are equipped with the tools to gather the information production teams need for effective scheduling and volume packing, and ensure its accuracy before it is passed on to them.

It’s a lot to consider, especially when multiple machines/systems must be incorporated into a wider project workflow to make effective use of their individual capacities. While there are certainly numerous areas where human error can potentially create problems, there are also considerable opportunities to streamline and enhance the additive manufacturing process, which may well make a compelling business case for the wider implementation of this technology.

Research into the typical workflows of additive manufacturing projects at the University of Nottingham has shown that many of the decisions involved in managing project workflows in additive manufacturing can be successfully automated. In addition to allowing teams to make more effective use of their time, delivering a better customer experience, this can also ensure that volume packing and schedule considerations can be incorporated into the quotation process, so each project is automatically allocated to the most appropriate machine as soon as a quote is generated.

Through intelligent automation of the quotation and workflow management processes, the disconnection between sales and production can be eliminated, and a fluid data flow established at the beginning of each project. Once this has been established, it will make more sense to think of sales and production as one fully-integrated project life-cycle, with key data gather, checked and centralised, with minimal need for manual input.

The more we see these workflow management concepts explored, implemented, and accepted as best practice, the closer we will be to seeing additive manufacturing processes revealing their true potential as rapid prototyping and manufacturing tools.

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