3 Effective Ways to Get Rid of Repetitive Tasks in Additive Manufacturing05 August 2021
Have you ever started your workday at the AM department by opening an email inbox to find a bunch of 3D printing requests, waiting to be manually pulled into a spreadsheet, priced, and re-confirmed with a requester?
And it’s not to mention other routine duties, like updating engineers on their order status, re-entering data from one system to another or compiling data for reports.
Spending too much time on these activities can hold up production, delay delivery, frustrate customers or, even worse, lead to errors. Manual, repetitive tasks take time away from what really brings value while eating into productivity, performance, compliance and revenue.
So how can you prevent repetitive tasks from holding back the growth of your AM production?
This is where automation comes in.
Adopting automation helps you save time by automatically handling smaller, more menial tasks; it helps you save money by allocating more person-hours to value-add functions; maybe best of all, it sets the foundation for more reliable processes by eliminating human error.
With automation becoming the norm in additive manufacturing, we explore which repetitive processes in AM can be automated and what solutions can help you along the way.
Automating repetitive tasks in additive manufacturing
Managing AM workflow is often the key source of repetitive tasks in additive manufacturing. Here are three solutions that cover different areas of AM management, from order submission to internal data collection, that can ease the pain of inefficient, tedious processes:
1. Setting up an ordering portal
A dedicated ordering portal allows engineers and designers to place 3D printing orders, choosing from available material and technology options.
The benefits of automated order submission are extensive.
First, the portal can capture all the necessary order information automatically, 24/7. If you have many AM requests, entering information into an accounting or order management system can nearly be a full-time job.
When using an online portal, you can integrate it with your other systems and automatically populate them with order information, so you and your team can stop doing it manually.
Second, the ordering portal allows you to automate price calculations. Generating 3D printing quotes manually can be extremely time-consuming. With automation, it can be done in a matter of seconds, while also guaranteeing quote accuracy.
Finally, you can reduce the time spent on back and forth communication with engineers. It’s not uncommon for AM department staff to spend considerable amounts of time updating engineers on their order status or specifying their requests.
What the ordering portal allows you to do is to automatically collect all the necessary information from the start, while also providing engineers with the opportunity to log in and access their order history.
By automating AM order submission, not only do you eliminate all the manual entry work that your team performs daily, you create operational efficiencies and free more time for other higher-value functions.
2. Implementing an internal order management system
With order submission automated, the next thing worth streamlining is order management.
Many AM organisations are collecting and managing order information using spreadsheets. This approach proves both time-consuming and error-ridden. Often, the data becomes scattered across different spreadsheets, and the manual transferring of data can easily lead to mistakes.
Larger organisations may also use ERP software to manage AM requests and orders.
However, conventional ERP is not always cut out for the needs of additive manufacturing order management, missing essential features and settings.
While you may be able to find workarounds to handle most of your current AM order management needs with ERP or a spreadsheet today, the question is, is it really scalable?
If you’re growing your AM operations and expecting hundreds of more 3D printing orders to flood in, you’ll need to have a modernised order management system (OMS) that has been designed specifically for AM. In this way, you can ensure that it can grow with you and adapt to the needs of your AM organisation.
Such a system will enable you to centralise data on additive manufacturing requests and orders. With a single source of truth in place, your team can easily search for information, quote requests faster, prioritise projects, and keep a tab on the deadlines.
Some AM order management solutions can also integrate with your email system, importing selected communications into your OMS as soon as they are received. With many users of AM still preferring to send requests via email, email integration is one solution that can add more flexibility to the requests and order submission process.
Ultimately, the key benefit of having a centralised digital order management system is that it gives you the confidence that the data is both reliable and up-to-date.
As a next step, you can also integrate the order management system with an ordering portal to further streamline the data collection process.
With your newly streamlined order management workflow, your AM department will reap the benefits of faster order processing time and reduced errors.
3. Introducing workflow automation software
Workflow automation allows you to prescribe and execute rules that enable tasks, documents and information flow without manual handling.
In AM, many activities lend themselves well to workflow automation. For example, to automate communication with engineers who send 3D printing requests, you can set up rules that trigger automatic emails to notify them of the progress of their order.
Advanced workflow automation goes even further to enable automatic order status changes and routing. Imagine a situation: an order goes from a preparation to a production stage, and you need to track all these status changes.
When done manually, you’ll likely need to open a spreadsheet, find the rows with the parts or items, and update their status. And there even may be a delay between the moment the order actually moves to the next stage and the moment you update its status.
The rub with this approach is that you won’t be able to track your operations in real time, which means you won’t be able to react to any issues in an agile manner.
What workflow automation software does is eliminates all these manual steps by triggering automatic status changes in your order management system, helping you to achieve real-time awareness of your operations.
Case study: The benefits of AM automation in practice
While an ordering portal, OMS and workflow automation can all be implemented as separate solutions, their true power reveals itself when they work in synergy.
Here’s a real-life example from a 3D printing lab at L’Oréal: before using automation, engineers would send emails with production requirements and 3D designs files, while a lab assistant would key in data into a spreadsheet to calculate the price. Then, the assistant would email the engineer who had placed the order about its status and delivery date etc.
To reduce this low value-added manual activity, L’Oréal adopted AMFG’s ordering portal and an internal order management system, powered by workflow automation features.
With one integrated solution in place, L’Oréal was able to automate each step in the ordering process.
So instead of emails, engineers use a portal to send requests, and the backend system automatically collects requests, calculates their costs and organises projects in an easy-to-navigate table. In the meantime, the rules set up by workflow automation trigger notifications to keep engineers in the loop about their project status.
Switching to automation allowed L’Oréal’s 3D printing lab to save hours of administrative work per week, speed up order processing and reduce pricing errors.
Doing additive manufacturing smarter
Looking from an ROI perspective, streamlining repetitive AM tasks by investing in automation solutions can offer a payback within a year, along with improvement in quality, efficiency, and control.
Here are just some of the stats highlighting the potential of automation:
- Up to 25% labour cost savings
- Consistent delivery of 100% accurate data
- Order processing time reduced by up to 90%
If your goals are to optimise efficiency, save costs and scale your additive manufacturing production, automation is one of the key things to consider.
Having gone through many successful digitising projects for our clients, we believe AMFG will be the best partner in your AM automation journey. That’s why we encourage you to learn more about how our solutions can help your organisation grow in the most scalable, efficient and profitable way.
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