Re-SWOT your business with 3D printing in mind – Opportunities

In a prior post of this series, I explained why it is wise to (re)SWOT your business with 3D printing* in mind and in another one I suggested assessing the potential Threats your organization could be facing. In this post, it’s about Opportunities offered by the new manufacturing ways.

*I use “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” interchangeably

Reminder: with the recent progresses in 3D printing (and 3D scanning) with regards to materials that can be 3D printed, every business is potentially at risk to discover a 3D printed substitute offered by an unsuspected and probably unknown competitor.

Yet what is a threat to some is an opportunity to others. The ability to offer a faster, cheaper, highly customized or whatever new product or alternative offer incredible new opportunities.

3D printing may break many barriers to entry, opening wide the gateway to previously protected markets.

Any competitor should evaluate the emerging opportunities to redefine the rules in his/her business with additive manufacturing and the opportunities to diversify or expand into new markets.

Some questions to assess the potential Opportunities your organization could be considering

The intent of the following questions is to make you think about the potential opportunities of a 3D printed product. The list of questions may evolve and readers are welcome to suggest additional or alternate ones (please use the comments).

  • Can you imagine any way 3D printing being applied in your business?
  • If 3D printing would be used in your business, what would it be for?
  • Can you think about a (more) disruptive way 3D printing could be used in your business?
  • What 3D printable product or substitute, if it (would) exist, may give you a cutting edge competitive advantage?
  • Could you offer a 3D printed substitute to existing products? What would its advantages be? What new or additional value would it bring? Would your customers want it?
  • Can you imagine expanding your business entering a new market (or segment) with a 3D printed product?
  • Are there any barriers to entry to a protected market you’ve considered that could be taken down with 3D printing / additive manufacturing?

You may have noticed that these questions are very similar to those about Threats. It is no surprise as opportunities for some are threats for others.


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Re-SWOT your business with 3D printing in mind – Threats

In a prior post of this series, I explained why it is wise to (re)SWOT your business with 3D printing* in mind. In this post, I propose some questions to assess the potential Threats your organization could be facing.

*I use “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” interchangeably

With the recent progresses in 3D printing (and 3D scanning) with regards to materials that can be 3D printed, every business is potentially at risk to discover a 3D printed substitute offered by an unsuspected and probably unknown competitor.

Some questions to assess the potential Threats your organization could be facing
The intent of the following questions is to make you think about the potential threats of a 3D printed product. The list of questions may evolve and readers are welcome to suggest additional or alternate ones (please use the comments).

  • Can you imagine any way 3D printing being applied in your business?
  • If 3D printing would be used in your business, what would it be for?
  • Can you think about a more disruptive way 3D printing could be used in your business?
  • What 3D printable product or substitute, if it (would) exist, may disrupt your industry / your market / your business?
  • If a 3D printed substitute suddenly appeared, could you offer the same?
  • Does your organisation have any knowledge about 3D printing? Any know-how? If not, how and where would you quickly get the capacity to propose the 3D printed product? (me-too offering)
  • Did you evaluate how much savings a 3D printed substitute could earn?
  • Compared to 3D printed part or product, what are the advantages of your traditional way of manufacturing?
  • Would your customers continue to pay for if they had the choice with a new 3D printed substitute?

It is possible that going through the questions above, you sense opportunities more or as well as threats. Fine! Opportunities are the next topic to explore.


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Re-SWOT your business with 3D printing in mind – Introduction

In a previous post* I assumed that 3D printing, general naming for additive manufacturing techniques, will revitalize strategic business analysis.

*Will 3D printing revitalize strategic analysis?

In this series of posts, I’d like to invite people in charge or with influence on strategy to reconsider their business with the new possibilities offered by 3D printing.

The incredible pace of innovations among which many real disruptions with 3D printing may surprise unaware business owners. On the positive side, they are many new possibilities to rethink and expand business. On the negative side, one may be put out of business by unexpected new competitors or shift in technologies or a combination of all.

What is it all about?

Additive manufacturing is totally different to traditional manufacturing. Material is “printed” thin layer after thin layer in simple or complex shapes and various materials until the finished 3 Dimensional part is finished on the printer’s bed. Those parts can even embed printed full functionally moving parts, like gears or ball bearings.

Traditional manufacturing cuts away material from a bigger rawling and usually requires many steps and different resources to get the finished part.

The advantages of additive upon traditional manufacturing are already tremendous and everyday new breakthroughs are reported.

Additive manufacturing needs no costly moulds nor toolings, fixtures or jigs, it does not even need skilled workers to operate the machines.

3D printing does not require minimum batch sizes, a tremendous advantage for short lead time and low inventories.

3D printing parts allows changes on the fly, which is top for highly customized production, inventory reduction, quick response to quality issues, and so on.

From this short list, by far not complete, everyone can sense the competitive advantages offered by these new technologies.

Now, it’s time for everyone to assess the current business with additive manufacturing in mind.

In the next post I’ll introduce SWOT analysis: Strength Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats.


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Why you should (re)SWOT your business

There is barely a day without a new announcement about a 3D printing* breakthrough or new 3D printable material or finding 3D printing new applications.

*I use “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” interchangeably

In most cases, 3D printing allows a totally new approach and reinvented value proposition, e.g. printing teeth, prosthetics, glasses frames, mechanical parts or fully functional systems, etc.

3D printing frees from many constraints, especially molds, complicated assemblies, other expensive tooling or multiple steps machining necessary to cut away material in traditional manufacturing.

It does not require to have huge series to ensure low unit cost and is “infinitely” flexible for design  changes and ready for almost any customization.

Additive manufacturing challenges former accumulated experience in traditional manufacturing and does not require expensive machines, thus breaks down many barriers and opens markets to new entrants.

As many applications of additive manufacturing already proved, there is virtually no business safe from 3D printing/additive manufacturing applications and the threat of new entrants.

Chances are that an unexpected competitor arises overnight with a revolutionary new approach to satisfy your customers, ruining years of investments, efforts and accumulation of experience.

The (potential) irony is that this new competitor can not only steal your business, but lock your company out of the market if it does not have the competences, know-how, agility nor resources to switch to the new manufacturing way.

Therefore it is wise for every – emphasize EVERY- business to SWOT-analyse itself from the perspective of the new manufacturing way.

Reminder: SWOT stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, a strategic analysis tool to assess the company’s position on the market and compare it to existing and potential competition.

Should Weaknesses and/or Threats prevail, the company is possibly in danger.

Yet 3D printing can also help reinvent the way your company does business and exploit the Strengths and/or Opportunities going the 3D printing way.

One more reason for swoting your business.


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How much non-added value can 3D printing add?

Chris HOHMANN

Chris HOHMANN – Author

3D printing is no doubt hype. No day without another breakthrough announced or stunning news about materials, or extraordinary achievements with the help of this new technology.

I am convinced 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing at large will completely change manufacturing and consumer experience in near future, and posted several blogs about it.

One of my posts was titled “Creativity breaks loose from constraints with additive manufacturing” and an other “How much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?”. The latter being a sweet and sour description about the benefits of this technology and the flip side of the coin, but in my view an encouraging perspective for future manufacturing in western countries.

Yet I came to see a proud announcement about the PancakeBot – The world’s first pancake printer! on kickstarter.com that echoes both the above mentioned posts.

3D printing as one of the additive manufacturing technique does indeed boost creativity, allowing for example to 3D print pancakes at will. On the other hand this creativity bursts question the added value of the extraordinary possibilities offered by 3D printing.

  • Who needs a customized 3D printed pancake?
  • How many trials does it take to have a Eiffel Tower pancake correctly cooked and delivered in one piece still looking like the Eiffel Tower?

(by the way, thank you for flattering my French pride with such an example).

Back to industry, the extraordinary possibilities offered by Additive Manufacturing should not lead to just buy more expensive toys for big boys to have some temporary fun or because it is hype, an aspect management must be aware of and before agreeing the investment, ask how much non-added value can 3D printing add?


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Is 3D printing the ultimate postponement? Part two

In the previous post of this series, I used somewhat extreme examples to illustrate the benefits of postponement with additive manufacturing i.e. 3D printing (space exploration, ships amidst oceans and warfare). In this post I use more common examples about how the promises of these new techniques will disrupt existing businesses and bring new benefits to competitors and customers.

Spare parts for automotive industry, appliances, etc.

Spare parts are needed for mending cars or appliances for example. Until now, spare parts must be produced and kept in inventories in the eventuality someone needs a part. This happens eventually but it is hard guess to tell which parts, when and in which quantities parts will be required.

Therefore, spare parts production is launched according to complex and more or less scientific guessing, based on statistics. Once these parts are produced, they’ll go for various locations through the proprietary network or through  importers, distributors, retailers and repair stations.
Huge amounts of cash are kept frozen in inventories, scattered in many warehouses in various locations.

  • These inventories are likely to grow with each new specification change that affects a part, as the adequate replacement part must be provided
  • These inventories’ value will have to be depreciated when parts become obsolete and the probability of their sales diminishes

Storing and distributing spare parts is a business per se, but the value-added remains limited (which does not mean it is not profitable!), especially for the “players in the middle” who act more like cross-docking platforms taking their share of profits and risks.

Over time distributors and retailers slightly changed their business model and drift away from their original business: storage and retail.

In old days it was important to be the reliable parts provider and huge inventories were normality.

More and more those companies embrace a financial, more profit-driven purpose and keeping inventories is for them a necessary evil at best. Distributors and retailers try to get delivered at short notice in order to keep inventories – that is frozen capital and risk – low.

They push the problem upstream to manufacturers, the latter being required to reduce delivery lead time, which most often ironically means holding inventories to serve “off-the-shelf”. Distributors and retailers become a kind of post-office collecting orders, passing them over to manufacturers, who in some case have to deliver to the point of use, by-passing the distributor/retailer.

I worked in some industries facing this “problem” and the distributor / retailer channel in this way does not seem sustainable as manufacturers try to get rid of these “order collectors”.

Now with the rise of additive manufacturing techniques, new opportunities appear. Distributors and retailers may use them to become manufacturers themselves. What they need are competencies to use such equipments and managing CAD files from OEMs’ libraries, “print” spare parts at will: at the right moment, in the right version, without holding huge, costly and risky inventories of parts in huge warehouses, with high fixed costs.

Furthermore, customizing parts locally would yield additional revenue, as customers with specific and maybe urgent needs are willing to pay a premium.
So would scanning and redesigning no longer supported parts for which no CAD files are available.
This kind of service is an ultimate postponement because the manufacturing of parts is on hold until the very last moment, when the orders are confirmed or the parts paid!

This is one example about additive manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing) techniques can disrupt existing businesses and bring new benefits to (some) competitors and customers. The financial barriers to entry dropping significantly, OEMs could reconsider to re-integrate this kind of activity and keep the value creation all by themselves.

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This post being a prospective analysis, I would be glad to read your comments.

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Is 3D printing the ultimate postponement? – Part one

Imagine the first habitable base on mars. Your challenge is to pack the first cargo spaceship with all the necessary for the staff to face all maintenance issues, until the next cargo spaceship can lift up, say three months later.

Chances are you’ll include a 3D printer and enough of printer’s raw material, simply because it would be the most efficient way to provide many things needed despite tremendous logistics constraints.

Now quit outer space and consider a tanker, an aircraft carrier or container ship amidst the ocean. In some aspects, these vessels share common traits with our base on mars:

  • storage space for spare parts, raw material and machines for maintenance purpose is scarce
  • they are far from everything, can be supplied only after some delay
  • supplying them is not without some risk (weather, enemies, etc.)
  • supplying them is not only risky but comes at (very) high cost

In these cases too, 3D printing is a good option to consider as printing what is needed at the very moment it is needed is the optimum solution and ultimate postponement.

What is postponement?

In manufacturing and supply chain operations, postponement means delaying the completion of a product or packaging products until a signal assigns specific customer or destination. This is useful when many variants would lead to possible misallocation if the completion would be based on forecasts.

Put simpler, postponement delays a decision until what is expected is clearly specified. The reason is most of transformation step in a process modify the product in such manner that returning to previous state is impossible.

Example: if you cut a piece of fabric to make a handkerchief, it cannot be returned to a piece of fabric for a trousers’ leg. (except it was a huge handkerchief or tiny trousers)

Materials usually lose flexibility along the transformation process. Once transformed there is no stepping back.

Postponement is used to delay the completion or manufacturing until a differentiation point from which the item loses its flexibility (e.g. pack in white box and add customized label latter).

Because postponement and later completion is no realistic option for our vessels or space base, they must embark spare parts for all possible cases, but under constraint of volume and in some cases weight.

The embarked mix is a set of items based on forecasts and tradeoffs about what could possibly happen and what is most likely needed, still carrying the frightening risk that what will really be needed will not be included in the cargo.

Printing at will

Now if you can trade the same finite volume and mass of many different spare parts selected through complicated statistical computation for a 3D printer and raw printer material, the risk drops to almost none as any required part (as long as material is suitable) can be printed when required, and even customized to some unexpected specification change.

This is why NASA, the navy or some private companies consider to embark 3D printers and train staff in order for the unit to be independent from its supply base for a longer period.


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Future of Lean and additive manufacturing

In a previous post titled “How much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?” my prospective thinking was all about technological disruptions and the impact on companies.

The same question is valid for the future of Lean. If as I assume much of the non-added value can be taken out of actual processes by additive manufacturing, what will be left for lean practitioners to work on?

Whole processes could be reduced to 3D printers or equivalent*, taking out lots of costs and non-value added. But what may be really shocking in near future could be to reconsider what we assumed being added-value in traditional manufacturing, e.g. cutting away material by lathing, milling, etc.

*3D printers stand here for a generic expression for additive manufacturing techniques and machines. 3D printers are already well-known from the public, therefore it makes it easier at present time to refer to additive manufacturing as 3D printing.

These processes transformed raw material in something of higher value, but at expense of a lot of energy, capital and material, like shavings, for example.

With the new perspective of additive manufacturing techniques, raw material will be used in just necessary quantity, most of the energy will really be used to “add” value and almost all of the manufacturing cycle time will be added value time.

Even the non-added value that cannot be suppressed – a former colleague of mine positively calls it “value enabling” – like all the fragmentation of the process between different techniques/machines, hand-offs, transfer, wip, etc. may simply disappear or at least seriously shrink.

Value Streams will become shorter and efficient, some Value Stream Maps limited to the order input and 3D printer!

While today about 2% of the lead time is usually added value, in near future it could soar up to 80% or more!

Future of Lean, Lean in the future, what is your point of view?

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How lean can help shaping the future – compact factories

The factory of the future has to comply with several constraints, among which the energy efficiency and respect of environment, the latter meaning nature as well as neighborhood.

Factories of the future will probably be close to housing areas, not only because in some areas space is scarce but because commuting is a major source of waste and annoyance.

Factory leanness is directly and positively correlated to its compactness. The more compact the factory the less travel distance within. Distance induces transportation and motion wastes. The shorter the distance, the less these types of waste.

The shorter the distance, the shorter the lead time hopefully.

Compact factories do not allow large inventories. I remember Japanese factories and the mini trucks; if you cannot store, deliver more often! (not sure about energy efficiency and environment friendliness of the trucks milk runs though).

Factories of the future will be built in flow-logic, unlike their centuries-old ancestors in which flows are just nightmares. Actual greenfields easily supercede brownfields and elder facilities on this point.

Best would be scalable units that can be plugged one to another, like plug-and-play shelters having some commodities ducts and cables pre-installed/pre-wired. Among them, Smart Industry or Industrie 4.0 (Europe) standard industrial buses for connecting anything out of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Such shelters could be specialized, like holding 3D printers, laser cutters or 3D scanners ready to use. They could be rented on-demand, installed, connected and used for some period and reused somewhere else after that. A kind of Rent-a-factory..!

Compact factories (in volume) need less heating and air conditioning and less artificial light. Industrial compressed air – if still in use – or other gases need less piping and volume in pipes in compact factory, less compressor units and power.
Air leaks in bigger facilities often require an additional compressor for compensation.
All good points for the sake of energy efficiency.

Most of the principles listed above are lessons learnt from lean experiences with existing factories. In such old-style factories, the improvements are often limited by physical, building construction constraints. Taking these lessons learnt into account is a way lean can help shaping the future.

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How much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?

It is a well-known fact: the sequence of all activities required to bring a product to a customer is called a value stream and despite the name, value does not flow smoothly nor swiftly along streamlined processes. Value streams are cluttered with non-added value processes, tasks and steps, so-called wastes.

Traditional manufacturing processes aren’t very efficient especially when several different techniques are required e.g. cutting, lathing, milling, drilling, welding, deburring, assembling, painting, etc.

All these machines require energy and floor space. The more complex the process, the more energy and space is required.

This remains true even if the process is partly subcontracted, which adds more transportation and management costs, maybe additional quality controls.

In such processes there are many hands-off and transportations between machines and work posts, the different operation require different skills, thus a staff of qualified workers.

Production is launched in batches in order to have some economies of scale but with carryover costs and all the trouble related to WIP and inventories.

Of course lead time is dependent on the number of operations and the process’ efficiency. Measured in time ratio, the added-value time to total Lead time ratio is often around 2% (poor efficiency) and around 10% (?) at best.

Customers pay for all this as until recently there was no alternative. Yet a tremendous change will affect some industries / businesses with additive manufacturing.

With these new techniques, when relevant and possible, the part or product is created in a single process by adding (“3D printing”) material one thin layer after another.

So how much non-added value additive manufacturing can take out of actual processes?

Well, considering the examples given above, I’d say a lot of handling, storing, energy, floor space, capital frozen in inventories and WIP, manpower costs, a large share of overhead, capital for different machines, lot of floor space and related costs (heating, cooling, light, locker rooms and other “social” rooms).

For the industries and businesses that will be threatened by the rise of these new manufacturing techniques, the disruption can be tsunami-like. Think of all the barriers to entry suddenly disappearing for new challengers and the irony of established companies, if caught unprepared, being suddenly locked-out from their own markets!

Some companies may not be able to switch quickly from traditional to additive manufacturing. It will probably take them some time to get the new know-how, find a suitable business model and get rid of assets that became a burden; machines, buildings and… some of the workforce. If additive manufacturing techniques supersedes traditional ones, companies that couldn’t manage the turnaround will be pushed out of their markets.

For customers it should be good news: cost and lead time should drop significantly while customization makes a giant leap.

Sad for those who will lose.

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You may also be interested in reading more posts about the factory of the future, like How disruptive 3D printing can be or Will 3D printing revitalize strategic analysis?