The Next Frontier for Scalable Additive Manufacturing? Additive MES Software20 April 2018
79 per cent of manufacturers expect their use of 3D printing for production parts to at least double within the next five years, according to a recent survey by Jabil. And yet, while the adoption of 3D printing in production is increasing, many companies still face challenges in scaling their Additive Manufacturing (AM) operations.
Moving forward with AM will inevitably involve strategies to add more machines and increase throughput. One way to support the growth of your AM operations is by establishing the right software architecture that will enable you to automate your production and increase the amount of 3D printing orders that you can process.
Below, we take at how MES software can help you achieve these goals on your way towards scalable and repeatable AM production.
Scaling AM operations with the right software tools
Perhaps paradoxically, companies that embrace digital manufacturing technologies like 3D printing are still using labour-intensive processes and disconnected systems to manage their AM workflows.
For example, many AM facilities are still using spreadsheets to organise projects and schedule AM production.
In case your AM production sites are scattered across different locations, or if certain team members are separated by large distances, you likely exchange data stored in spreadsheets through email.
Experience will tell you that such a method of exchange can be quite frustrating, with emails getting lost or data being duplicated. Keeping track of similar files going back and forth can also be challenging and sometimes results in sending the wrong file versions.
What this tells us is that such methods lack scalability, particularly as companies are making the shift from single 3D printing machines used for prototyping and research to multiple, connected workstations optimised for production.
Managing life cycle processes, calculating the cost of parts, scheduling production and collecting relevant statistical data are just some of the key elements needed to run any AM operation on an industrial scale. Manual processes are, therefore, not adequate, scalable solutions.
If we are to unlock the full potential of AM for production, companies will need a new approach to managing their AM operations.
Which is where AM Manufacturing Execution System (MES) software comes in.
What is an Additive MES software?
The unique requirements of AM mean that specialist software is needed to manage each stage of the AM workflow and provide a scalable model for expansion.
Additive MES software is designed to automate, monitor, and coordinate every stage of the AM workflow, from file preparation right through to production and post-processing management.
The prospect of developing scalable AM production can be daunting. If done in-house, it requires the development of a scalable and robust software system that can provide a centralised platform for managing AM production – which is no mean feat.
However, by implementing specialised MES software for AM, companies can not only significantly reduce costs, but also the time spent on labour-intensive tasks, like production scheduling through automation, ultimately ensuring optimised, efficient workflows.
Higher efficiency, better traceability
One of the major benefits of MES software is to provide greater transparency and traceability along the entire production process.
The automated logging and tracking of data throughout the entire production chain mean that it is possible to know exactly what is being produced and when, in real time. File versioning tools can ensure that all iterations of an STL file are logged, keeping users up-to-date with the latest design iterations.
Connectivity can be established along the entire value chain too, linking your machines, software systems like ERP, PLM and other systems to ensure a continuous, real-time transfer of data at every stage of production.
AM production planning and management is another essential element of MES software. Without production management tools, collecting production data and even tracking the movement of parts along the production process can become a laborious process.
Being able to schedule and monitor production and collect critical data through the software reduces the burden on departments, while simultaneously providing transparency on the production results.
Automation and Scalability: The Next Steps for Additive Manufacturing
The transition towards Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing drives the need for automated processes.
AM, as an integral part of this shift, will, too, require automation to ensure more streamlined processes as part of an end-to-end digital production cycle.
MES software will play a key role in introducing automation across various AM stages by reducing reliance on manual labour, digitising internal processes and adding a greater level of connectivity.
Ultimately, using MES software to establish automated workflows for AM is a natural next step for manufacturers looking to scale up the use of the technology and shape the future of digital manufacturing with 3D printing.
Learn more about automating and scaling AM workflows
If you’d like to learn more about how MES software and automation can power you AM operations, we recommend reading our new white paper, Additive Manufacturing MES Software: The Essential Guide.
As well as providing more insights into the importance of automation for AM workflows, you’ll learn more about how to develop a comprehensive AM strategy and how you can use MES software to help you scale and expand your AM operations.
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