Throughout time, manufacturing companies have needed to adapt to survive and the 2020s are set to be no different, writes Ian Weston, Managing Director at Mark3D UK. Constant demands from management to identify and drive down costs means today’s engineers must be more adventurous and creative to realise valuable cost savings.
Many in the manufacturing sector, especially in engineering, believe “the easy wins went long ago”. However, I’m not so sure. Over the last five years we have seen a number of agile, entrepreneurial, high-tech companies start up, or morph from their current position, to offer today’s engineers a host of modern technology that can help drive down costs. Known as “Industry 4.0”, they present a range of offerings covering design automation and iteration, production monitoring software with real-time logic-based decisions and even, bearing in mind it has been around for some 30 years, good old-fashioned 3D printing.
The market moves very quickly and 3D printing for engineers has improved tremendously in recent years. The technology now offers engineers affordable printers with strong materials and predictable results, yet it often struggles to be taken seriously in the boardroom. While early 3D printers did a great job in raising awareness of the technology, they had an equally adverse effect because of the items people chose to print with them. Green men and games characters fail to cut it in the engineering board room.
The opportunity for excellent return on investment (RoI) is there, if production engineers know where to find it. Simply borrowing a printer from the design office and expecting immediate cost savings is not realistic. Design office printers use different materials and technology compared to those used by engineers. Printing-savvy engineers know that 3D printing is far more valuable to businesses outside of the design office, rather than within it, typically realising the RoI in around three months.