It is well-known that there is a worker shortage in manufacturing, and I know many CEOs lay awake at night trying to solve the issue of recruiting and retaining talent. As a result, many companies have turned to technology like 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) to address their needs. While this may seem like a recent innovation, 3D printing has actually been around for more than 30 years.
Some manufacturers may say “I’d never replace my people with machines,” but the revelation of 3D printing isn’t in replacing employees, but rather in making your operation more productive without additional employees. Think about it. 3D printing may allow your facility to perform lights-out manufacturing, creating parts or components after hours when your team is done for the day. In our connected world, this process can easily be monitored and controlled from a computer or smartphone from anywhere in the world.
Imagine how much more productive your plant could be if you could eliminate lead time when ordering parts or significantly reduce your need to inventory components. You could make more products with the team you have, rather than struggling to find more employees.
Of course, additive manufacturing is more complicated than I am making it sound. However, every day it gets easier and easier to implement. Before you invest in a 3D printer, ask yourself the following questions about what it will take to make the most of additive manufacturing in your operation.
- What software is needed to create the 3D design and how much does it cost?
- Will you use the technology for prototyping or production?
- What are the surface finish requirements for your parts?
- On average, what are the typical maintenance costs?
- What kind of material is needed for your prints and how does the cost compare to current material cost?
It all boils down to this: have a plan before investing in a 3D printer. Talk to your peers. More and more of them are implementing additive manufacturing every day, and they can give you important advice about the technology before you make the investment yourself.
Don’t ignore the potential benefits of 3D printing. If you can’t grow by increasing your staff, you may be able to grow by increasing your productivity.