Why 3D Printing Service Bureaus Need Automation to Scale
28 February 2018
With the 3D printing services market expected to grow to $13 billion by 2022, the rising demand for 3D printing services means a huge growth opportunity for 3D printing service bureaus. However, as the market grows, 3D printing bureaus will also face the challenge of scaling their current processes to meet the increased demand for their services — and retain their competitive advantage.
Currently, however, many bureaus do not have the systems in place to effectively scale their activities, with manual processes, such as quotations, and disconnected systems in place. Replacing these systems with automation software will therefore be crucial for the operational and financial growth of AM bureaus – but how and why should bureaus consider automation?
Manual Quotations: an unscalable process
Many 3D printing service bureaus currently use manual processes, such as spreadsheets or paper-based systems, to produce quotations for their customers. However, the demand for services increases and bureaus receive more requests, manual quotations will not be an adequate or scalable solution for processing hundreds or even thousands of requests at a time.
At this growth stage, bureaus looking to tackle this issue could be hiring additional staff just to process requests. However, manually producing a quotation can be an incredibly time-consuming process, with specialists often spending time on quotes for low-volume orders — or even requests that do not ultimately translate into actual orders.
With your bureau facing fixed costs regardless of the value of the order, it is clear that minimising the time spent on quoting will have a positive impact on your bottom line. 3D printing service bureaus must therefore consider the benefit of automating the quotation process in order to overcome this bottleneck in the sales and production cycle. With automation software, your specialists can generate quotes in a matter of seconds – allowing them to reallocate their time to much more pressing tasks.
Rethinking the Production Process
Once a CAD file has been analysed, a quotation produced and all relevant information noted, 3D printing bureaus must also consider how this information is transferred along the production workflow. Currently, paper-based processes are frequently used to track files, parts and other information related to the order (such as material, technology, post-processing services etc.). The problem arises when orders are to be produced on a larger scale. If you have hundereds of parts in a build, for example, and need to identify a specific part for a customer, manually checking this may not be the most efficient method.
It is here that anticipating future growth to your business is crucuial — and implementing scalable systems, optimised for greater efficiency and productivity. For a growing service bureau, the business case for automation software is clear: alongside quotations, you’ll be able to store and track all data relating to an order, keep a catalogue of parts and easily track activities along the production workflow. For as your production capacity grows, so too does the requirement for greater traceability from beginning to end.
An End to Disconnected Systems
Imagine the simplicity of using one system to coordinate every part of your AM workflows, from customer and supplier communication to quotations, part tracking, build status monitory and shipping.
The reality today is very different, with bureaus using a combination of CRM and accounting systems, spreadsheets and other tools to coordinate activities. The result is disconnected systems, with staff often having to manually input the same information multiple times into multiple systems — adding an additional layer of complexity to the production cycle and wider supply chain.
This repetitive, manual work can be eliminated through automation software, which enables you to put information into the system once – and transfer it easily. This can simplify customer communication, through email integration, remove data tracking issues and ultimately solve the efficiency bottleneck. It is therefore important that the solution can be integrated into your existing systems.
The Business Case for Automation
Utlimately, 3D printing services bureaus must consider the future growth of the 3D printing market, and adapt current operational models to meet the challenge head on. Manual processes and disconnected systems will not be enough to meet the rising demand. Automation, and specifically software automation, will be crucial in helping service bureaus effectively scale their processes to be able to expand.
The rise in demand for 3D printing will mean that many 3D printing bureaus will need to adapt their current operational models to be able to meet the challenge head on.
AMFG provides the leading workflow automation software solution to streamline the entire additive manufacturing process. For more information, check out our Solutions for 3D printing bureaus, or simply contact us.