Integrating AM into digital production workflow could bring level of automation to new heights
SmarTech Publishing just released my latest AM market report, this time on AM workflow automation, that is automation of the AM production line. In this report, I tried to assess what the overall business volume could around the establishment, within tomorrow’s automated factories, of the fully digital production line which use AM as the core production process in an end-to-end production cycle.
For this report, I only considered automation of the mechanical processes involved. In other words that part of digital manufacturing that takes the product from a digital file ready to be 3D printed (so after it underwent CAD, CAE and CAM software processes) and before the distribution and retail phase (which is managed by CRM and ERP software).
While the creation and commercialization processes are well on their way to be fully digitalized in the Industry 4.0 concept, the part which I analyzed and researched in this report is the least digital today. Even with a potentially pure digital process like 3D printing at its core, the manufacturing process is the most labor intensive so it is the primary bottleneck in a more streamlined, efficient and sustainable idea of production.
Within this process exist several different phases and levels where automation could be implemented. In some cases the means to do it already exist and simply need to be assigned or programmed for specific tasks, in other cases, they still need to be developed. However, in all cases, it appears clear that most 3D printer manufacturers have become aware that – as AM becomes a more efficient mass manufacturing or mass customization platform – the 3D printer is no longer a stand-alone system but needs to be integrated into so-called “production cells” or “end-to-end digital production lines”.