With exponential growth on the horizon for Additive Manufacturing and digitalisation, traditional business models are getting disrupted. 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing (AM), is set to literally reconstruct the process of rapid prototyping to repairing components. Projected to grow five-fold from US $2.2 billion in 2012 to an estimated US $10.8 billion in 2021, according to a study by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, the disruptive technology heralds an exciting time for manufacturing.
Therefore, with digital 3D design data enabling manufacturers to modify components layer by layer, it opens a multitude of design possibilities across industries, such as, aerospace and engineering. For example, Singapore has already taken great strides in AM adoption with the establishment of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) in 2015, that has boosted digitalisation efforts in the maritime and health sector, respectively.
As it turns out, traditional manufacturing in the past was unforgiving due to the lack of resources and conventional capabilities available. Specific parts required special tooling that made it rather cost-inefficient for manufacturing SMEs and companies to produce. The process was all the more tedious, as engineers back then used traditional Computer Aided Design (CAD) workflow tools that resulted in disjointed and broken designs, due to the incompatibility of the CAD applications.
However, with AM, it is possible to create innovative lightweight parts that have honeycomb or complex structures at a lower cost. Should a product prototype require reworking, a new design can be programmed onto AM equipment and be produced in a relatively fast manner. A traditional assembly line with conventional printing or manufacturing methods may not be as swift or precise. Plus, it would require a lot of time, material and labour just for reconfiguration, making it highly inefficient for producing small prototype parts.
While it is clear that AM has an edge over conventional assembly, uptake in Asia Pacific has been particularly slow in comparison to its other regional counterparts. According to Roland Berger, the United States represented about 37% of globally installed AM equipment, with China and Japan following behind at 10% and 9% respectively. This was also followed by a lack of strategy on handling legacy systems and equipment, according to a study conducted by Arc Advisory.
Despite its barriers to entry, AM could produce unstoppable momentum for the growth in the region. Forecasted to grow at a rate of 18.6% in Asia Pacific between 2015-2025, according to a Frost and Sullivan study, AM’s multifaceted benefits are too huge to ignore. Research from McKinsey also strengthens this claim, forecasting that the overall growth impact made by AM could be much higher, following current momentum, which could reach $250 billion by 2025.
Amongst today’s bustling competition, as we transit towards a digital society, how are Asia Pacific manufacturers able to deliver products with AM in a smarter fashion and resolve the issue of legacy equipment?
Smarter manufacturing for better business efficiency
As with the adoption of ‘smarter technology’ (additive manufacturing in this instance), manufacturers need to change the way they view product design too. For example, by redesigning the original product model, which was made keeping in mind previous traditional methodologies, could help cut down on part wastage and reduce processes, in turn saving precious time and cost. This can be further aided by digital twins, which integrates physical and digital models into a simulated environment that improves business operations and outcomes. The virtual representation of a product or object is showcased on a digital platform that enables manufacturers to pinpoint potential issues or opportunities throughout the product lifecycle – from the start of product design to modernisation of systems and plants. The twins which consist of both, the physical and digital copies, are connected to each other and can develop a common object memory that should be ideally set from the first prototype onwards.
So, by implementing digital twins within the design process, the simulated environment will help both, the designers and engineers to visualise more accurately. With many emerging manufacturing techniques that are becoming as precise as conventional manufacturing methods, design now needs to be thought out a lot more differently than it was before. More companies need to shift that mindset into play, as simulated environments will take greater precedence into the future, in line with CAD inputs, such as, mesh geometry and the generative design.
While its American counterparts might be ahead of the game, we foresee that Asia Pacific will quickly catch up and capitalise on AM’s benefits in the near future. Companies that have yet to tap onto the strengths of digital twins and AM equipment system should assess its potential. As today’s engineers in SMEs and large organisations are accountable for a wider range of responsibilities, they each face the same issues of tight timelines, making it all the more imperative for manufacturing companies to deploy digital solutions in order to tackle the problems of today and the future.
Courtesy: Siemens PLM