How is Automated Scheduling Driving Efficiency in Serial AM?

06 December 2022
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As additive manufacturing climbs in market prominence, soaring demand and high order volumes are increasingly becoming the ‘norm’, with the advent of AM serial production only amplifying this more. Efficient management of printing schedules, as a result, has never been more fundamental to locking in AM production success.

To supervise overlapping order lead times is a capacity which, though deepening in complexity as order numbers increase, is a baseline for business prosperity. Small scheduling hitches can send operators scrambling to make ends meet and ensure that customers receive orders within agreed-upon timeframes. 

It is no wonder, then, that many companies see valuable time and effort absorbed by manual production scheduling. For the seemingly small cost of hours spent slotting builds into one another, operations can progress smoothly. Yet, as the common saying goes, ‘every penny makes a pound’; these hours will accumulate and even increase as businesses age and mature. 

What if this didn’t have to be the case? Could there be a world in which production could be scheduled painlessly and swiftly, whilst simultaneously reaching optimisation beyond manual capacities? 

Amongst the ample functionalities that Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) like AMFG can offer, ‘automated scheduling’ can streamline operations to unparalleled levels. 

Configuring software to respect the unique business priorities of a manufacturer, the process of sorting builds onto a schedule can now be conducted automatically. In this article, we explain how automated scheduling can transform operational capacity as additive manufacturing sets its sights on larger-scale production. 

Obstacles to Serial Production Success

 

 

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[Image Credit: Via. The Write Life]

Serial production presents new and exciting territory to additive manufacturing technologies, which have historically kept their sights honed on prototyping. However, with new commercial end goals come new logistical complexities. 

Serial production involves batching identically manufactured goods. Unlike the perpetuity involved in ‘mass production’, serial batches are interspersed with periods of ‘downtime’, wherein machines are reconfigured to create new products, or paused in anticipation of new orders. 

Manual scheduling, prone to human error and absorbing time that could be well spent on production, can too easily beco me the Achilles’ heel barring large-scale production from efficiency. When sending out high part volumes to a varied customer base, delivered according to varying deadlines and for distinct purposes, organisation is key to ensuring that manufacturers avoid slipping into fatal disorder. 

Furthermore, scheduling is not solely a matter of making sure every build is granted the opportunity to print. As orders and customer-bases ebb and flow, production priorities can shift.

In some cases, a company may need to fast-track a high-priority customer. In others, disparate builds may contain parts that must be timed in conjunction, perhaps due to being contained within the same order, or because they’ll undergo similar post-processing. Each business will know which targets must be met at particular times; continuously factoring these foci into manual schedules can be excessively time-consuming. 

Yet, as a company grows, intricacies of this kind are likely to crop up in positive correlation with order volumes. Unfortunately, there are only so many tangles that manual operations are capable of smoothing out. 

 

Auto-scheduling’s Solution 

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Painstakingly inserting builds one by one into a carefully curated patchwork, whether digitally or even on paper, becomes more detrimental than advantageous when part volumes escalate. If your company has reached this conclusion with regard to your operations, then it’s high time to consider auto-scheduling. 

AMFG’s software provides a prime example of auto-scheduling’s streamlining potential. 

The first stage to setting up a build is choosing which parts should be built together to optimise throughput. Rather than slowly filtering through digital reams of CAD files, AMFG’s auto-scheduler can take on this task, automatically selecting the optimal parts for the job. In the case of serial production, this collection of parts can then be arranged into a locked-down build, entering circulation for repeated batch production. 

Once the parts for the build have been ascertained, they can next be nested, a process which enables the build time to be ascertained. This is a process whereby the parts contained within a build are strategically arranged in order to optimise printer space, making use of complementary shapes to ensure that as many parts as possible can be produced at one time. Only once a build has been nested and sliced can details like the exact run time of the print be determined, affording vital information for subsequent scheduling. 

AMFG’s recent R50 Release Update is continuing to hone the efficiency of this initial step, introducing fully automated sync between AMFG and workstation based build preparation software. This Desktop Agent feature forwards a more closely consolidated workflow, automating export of builds to and import from platforms like Magics, earning significant time savings. Combined with a cloud-based nesting solution – an alternative to the nesting approach earlier described – the whole build preparation process can be fully automated, eliminating time consuming manual procedures altogether. 

With this, the sliced build is ready to be incorporated into a schedule. By way of the slicing process, the time taken by the build can be determined, alongside its material consumption. This information can then be equipped to locate a printer with a free slot and sufficient material loaded into it, or otherwise to ensure that a technician administers a refill. 

To automate this process, companies must identify their central production priorities; these are then channelled through business logic, taking those real-world considerations and granting them digital value. By capturing different logical statements and layering them, individualised automation processes can be subsequently formed. 

Automated scheduling can in this way ensure that the standards central to an organisation’s operations are applied across the board to every order that enters into a system. As order volumes rise from 10,000 to 1,000,000 and beyond, this pivotal mechanism ensures that no singular build is left to slip through the net. 

The Result: Disorder Averted

 

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[Image Credit: SWD AG]

Time management sits at the centre of the decision to invest in a solution supporting auto-scheduling; upon its implementation, this takes on a two-pronged manifestation. 

Firstly and straightforwardly, manufacturers will have access to a timetable optimised beyond the capabilities of a manually produced schedule. No longer must the potential of timing snags threaten disruption, and no more will those responsible for planning find themselves in a tight spot when priorities suddenly overlap.

Instead, automated systems will ensure that not a minute of production time goes by unproductively. Even in the case of unexpected disturbance – such as when a planned build fails, a new order comes in, or a part fails quality control – the best schedule can be automatically identified, swiftly delivering resolution. 

Secondly, this time optimization does not come at the ironic expense of taking time and effort to develop in itself. Indeed, the labour invested into producing an economical production calendar is entirely cut out, in favour of a superior alternative. In a matter of clicks, rather than a matter of hours, the parameters for a build’s time placement can be set. 

In the case of serial production, these two time-related benefits offer essential control over large order volumes, facilitating reliable build repeatability. Working around machine availability and production job priority, software like AMFG can ensure that operations are continuous, delivering parts in precise alignment with lead times. The overall time-cutting enabled through auto-scheduling in turn frees up time for dealing with bumps in the road, such as part failure or machine malfunction. Indeed, allowance for such happenings can be incorporated into a business’ schedule based on data collection; insights into failure rates or machine uptime, for example, can be reflected in scheduling parameters going forward. 

Providing a steadfast operative foundation, automated scheduling prevents companies from losing their footing as AM demand shoots up, investing companies with the resources needed to scale with resolute confidence. 

 

Automated Scheduling’s Role Going Forward

 

The expansion characterising today’s additive manufacturing landscape is immensely exciting. With more use-cases for 3D printing than ever before, market-scope is steadily broadening, with new doors opened every day. 

And yet, in the face of an overarchingly positive phenomenon, its implications can be daunting when many AM focused companies are not accustomed to demand on this level. 

Growth should not be a burden. 

AMFG is helping hundreds of companies worldwide to scale their additive manufacturing processes; providing a backbone to operational expansion, features like auto-scheduling can transform not only company revenue, but business perspective.

Rather than an intimidating challenge for businesses to overcome, the AM industry’s amplification can through AMFG be both viewed and treated as the triumph that it is. 

 

 

Enjoyed this? Check out our last article, ‘How is 3D Printing Helping to Onshore Manufacturing?’

 

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