Top-5 Biggest Issues of On-Demand Manufacturing. Part 2
In our previous article, we started discussing some of the most burning issues of today’s on-demand manufacturing industry. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so, again, we asked some startup owners who already saw the situation from the inside to share their vision on the problem.
The top three problems we talked about were cost-related issues, the lack of expertise, and the deficiency in the established regulations also affecting the quality. Below are two more concerns.
4. Uneven development of the market
On the one hand, both manufacturers and customers are jumping the gun. Producers are acting as though the technology is already ubiquitous and applying the business models that would better suit the later phases. For example, they are placing ID chips in material cartridges, preventing them to be refilled or sourced elsewhere. It is like turning deaf ear to the real needs of the customers, who in fact still need to be persuaded to use support materials instead. On the other hand, those who haven’t ridden the wave yet, are leery of the technology. This creates the situation when the technology doesn’t keep up with the realistic market conditions.
‘One of the biggest problems we faced is the customers’ knowledge gap. People just don’t understand the process of objects’ creation, don’t understand that an object can’t be taken ex nihilo — out of nothing, that to get the things done, a designer should be engaged (and paid!). Yes, sometimes people are wondering why they should pay for design and modeling services, for all those efforts that actually create an out-of-the-box solution that 3D printing can bring.
For that reason, we rarely receive clear technical design specifications, because often, customers are not even sure about the size and material of their desired parts. All this impedes effective communication between a client and a contractor. We are making steps towards improving the situation, publishing more information about our works and projects, about the scopes of the work and budgets, explaining the nuances of the process to the people.’
‘Clients are accustomed to purchasing off-the-shelf products, which have been adequately tested, mass-produced to a high-quality and provided with warranties/guarantees. An on-demand manufacturer doesn’t have the luxury to test and fine-tune a product. They simply receive files/designs and need to work with what they’ve got.’
Our minds work in the way that involves certain delays in adopting new things. Not to exaggerate, on-demand manufacturing is a disruptive trend, and we need some time to get used to it.
‘The general public doesn’t know on-demand manufacturing is a thing… Once it becomes something that they think about more, they will think to use it more. People still have the mentality of buying non-customized objects. This will change over time, but will take a major brand or retailer to push out the idea of buying customized items.’
Iskender Maski follows:
‘Clients expect a perfect product first up and do not realize that this is not always the case. Additive manufacturing is mostly used for prototyping and this requires ,some trial and error to get a really good product. Also, clients do not understand which manufacturing technology is most appropriate for their particular project/designs. Because they do not understand the pros and cons that each manufacturing technology offers.’
Even those who are willing to dive into the new technology often have illusions about it. Definitely, companies need to build awareness promotion and help customers in this regard. The team of Gregory Paulsen seems to have succeeded in this:
‘We are already experienced enough to be able to steer the customer in the direction that we think will best suit their project needs. A clear communication with the customer helps us chose the technology and the optimal solution. Communication is also what saves the situation when something goes wrong. We don’t let our clients hang in limbo; instead, we articulate all the essential things to them and try to mitigate the problem with the least possible amount of consequences. No matter how you plan, sometimes things happen. The task is to speak to the customer openly. And we at Xometry are client-obsessed, you know.’
5. The need for more automation
More and more people are understanding that 3D printing gives a design freedom and that it can be very cost effective as compared to traditional manufacturing. Thankfully, there are enthusiasts who are not going to sit idle. They are already working on the solutions that facilitate the process and make it more approachable.
‘The industry lacks automated processes that produce optimal 3D Prints. This is a problem that my company works on. Once someone wants to get something made, they need a one-click-print functionality, no matter what type of machine it’s being manufactured on. Automated systems like ours can optimize this process making it simple for the end user.
Besides, there is a need for new design tools. The industry needs more simple CAD tools that don’t feel like CAD tools at all. Minimal options in which the end user can’t screw up the design,’ mentioned Drew Taylor, Co-founder of AstroPrint.
Startup founders are keeping sharing their ideas concerning the topic with us. Gregory Paulsen, Director of a one-stop shop for manufacturing on demand, says they are aimed to transform American manufacturing. The company created a proprietary platform that helps designers and engineers instantly access manufacturing facilities all around the country. It also helps customers quickly find contractors and instantly obtain comprehensive information about the pricing, timeframes etc.
James Teuber, CEO at Re3dTech, emphasizes that it’s always better to keep one SP if it’s possible and not jump from technology to technology; otherwise, or you’ll have problems with orientation. In fact, it is unwise to jump from SLS to HP printers and expect the same practical result.
‘One of the issues that I see is many customers try to move from one technology to something similar and expect the same results,’ he says. ‘We have to coach them to dial in a technology and design their parts around that technology to get the results they are looking for. There also has to be a very clear communication between a customer and a service provider in terms of part orientation if they plan to use more than one service provider to get their parts even close to being the same. It’s hard enough getting similar results from machine to machine within the same service provider let alone getting similar results between various providers.’
We hope all the challenges mentioned can be surmounted. But for this, the industry should switch the focus from stressing the advantages of additive manufacturing to bringing more of a tangible business value. Rather than searching for the products that would fit the technology, focus on making the technology fit the product. Rather than creating obstacles for potential customers, attract them by providing more information about the sphere. Give them automated tools to reach the technology and increase manufacturing efficiency, optimize supply chains and reduce lead times, think about cost-effective customization, fill in the knowledge gap by training more specialists, work on improving the quality of the final products, particularly by establishing formal standards. Only after that, we can speak about the manufacturing revolution in a real-case scenario.
Do you think we missed some critical issues? Have you run into any of them during your business practice? You are more than welcome to express your opinion in the comments below!