- The number of 3D printing service bureaus continues to increase to meet demand for 3D printed parts.
- Today, much of the demand for 3D printed parts comes from customers with legacy parts that need to be digitized before production.
- Less than 1% of 3D printing service bureaus offer design services which results in a frustrated customer and a lost production opportunity for the service bureau.
With the advent of Industry 4.0, enterprises large and small are discovering capabilities not possible in the past. The opportunity to create “smart” factories on any scale is driving innovation, and one of the biggest innovations to emerge has been the concept of On-Demand manufacturing (ODM). As companies discover the possibilities of interconnected equipment and integrating instant data analysis within a factory setting, new capabilities are emerging that allow on-demand production runs with shorter lead times, smaller quantities, and improved costs.
Already, a third of companies worldwide have digitized their supply chain to some degree; one study predicts that number will reach 75% by 2020. And through this increase of supply chain digitization, On-Demand Manufacturers have emerged.
On Demand Manufacturers start their life as fully digitized enterprises, so they can take advantage of cutting-edge technologies that allow them to be more agile in production and more responsive to customer tastes and market trends.
Most of these companies utilize additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, as the centerpiece of their business to capture the on-demand market, reduce time to market through rapid prototyping, and reduce development costs. But as On-Demand Manufacturing matures, companies are encountering challenges in their new business model that are rooted in the past.
Old Issues for a New Industry
Regardless of industry or complexity, every product started out as an idea that had to be nurtured through to the production phase. Many parts are updated iterations of existing products, while others are new products entirely. This holds true whether the design idea was conceived by a well-funded, deeply experienced product development team in a large company, or by an entrepreneur with the proverbial “back-of-the-napkin” sketch. But for companies built upon On-Demand Manufacturing, the design phase brings about an interesting challenge.
Even though On-Demand Manufacturing is centered around new technology and digitization, companies must still balance their needs and plans to scale based on scarce resources, including capital. As a result, the decision on whether to vertically integrate design into their business model, or whether to integrate it at all, can affect their trajectory.
Vertical integration is the process of acquiring the production means for producing the business’ intended product. While On-Demand manufacturing does not face the classic definition of this concept, it does apply to the dynamic involved when looking at the design dilemma. When facing the design integration challenge, on-demand manufacturers face one of two options.
A.) Vertically Integrate 3D Design
Many on-demand manufacturers follow the traditional tendency of trying to do everything in-house. They acquire design staff to work remotely or on-site and they include the design loop as part of their business. Although this method has the potential of increasing process and supply chain control, it also comes with its own set of disadvantages:
- Balancing and Utilization of Staff – Utilizing in-house design assumes a steady flow of work to engage the staff. Too little and staff are idle, too much and an ODM faces having to pay in-house cost plus the added markups of sub-contracting the balance.
- Higher Overhead Cost – While lower operational costs are achieved, higher overhead costs can impact the company as well. Design staff retained on an employed basis rather than an IC basis have the added expense of benefits and fringe offered to all employees. These skillsets usually cost more than local prevailing wage due to their specialization. And, when combined with un-balanced workloads and underutilized staff, they can have a multiplier effect on added cost.
- Tunnel Vision – While an ODM may have the most advanced 3D design software available, there are many programs that perform 3D modeling, and deploying them all is expensive (including all the updates, licensed seat costs, upgrading, etc.). As a result, an ODM may be forced to choose a smaller selection of modeling software that, over time, impacts those operating it. The organization can find itself susceptible to tunnel vision, where a limited number of staff is more proficient in some software than others, and as proficiency in other platforms wanes, incoming files require more time to convert.
B.) Only Accept Print-Ready Work
Because ODM’s tend to run small, they don’t always have the available resources and capital to vertically integrate 3D design into their operation. Instead, they reject opportunities without print-ready files, and they solely focus on production.
- Optimized Production – By requiring print ready files an ODM without design services can focus on equipment utilization and load and demand planning. In this way they function dynamically in the same manner as a contract manufacturer, essentially agnostic toward design.
- No Transactional Costs – With no offering of design services there is no expensive third party transactional costs and no corresponding need to cost it into operations and pricing. To the extent that they do recommend design services, the cost of those services and the interaction required fall to the customer and not the ODM.
- Lower Labor Cost – Without the need for design skillsets in-house, an ODM can employ lower skilled operators whose impact to the overhead line will be lower than a professional designer.
- Reduced Access to Markets – An ODM without in-house design must have a steady source of incoming print ready orders. Any fall off in volume and the company may find itself unable to offer value-added solutions such as design or file fixing to increase demand.
- Narrow Playing Field – Lack of in-house design also forces an ODM into the position of being predominantly tied to enterprises with means of creating or obtaining print ready files on their own. It closes the ODM off from “back-of-the-napkin” entrepreneurs, hobbyists, mechanics and engineers, and others who so often generate new ideas that lead to new production.
C.) A Third Way
On-Demand Manufacturing arose from a shift in how production data is collected and utilized on the production floor, and how it can be combined with advanced technology such as 3D printing. It is counterproductive, then, to force a new business to accept old principles such as how much, or whether, to integrate a critical component such as design into their operation. Instead, there is a new way to allow companies to take full advantage of ODM while offering the value-added benefit of design.
In the same way that On-Demand Manufacturing leverages speed of data and 3D printing, Design On-Demand can leverage access to all 3D modeling platforms, design skillsets and latest technology to produce print ready files at any skill level. And it can be done in a single platform partnered with an ODM.
Instead of an “either/or” decision, ODM’s can use Design On-Demand in conjunction with their current business model to service all design needs. Truly Design On-Demand would be more than just a third-party design house. Instead, it is a value-added concept that takes the same dynamics realized by digital manufacturers and applies them to the design stage. In this way, Design On-Demand would offer several benefits:
- Design On-Demand would allow an ODM to optimize production without employing in-house staff dedicated to design. Design On-Demand would be done as needed or a ’la carte, which means overhead costs are zero.
- Design On-Demand would improve accuracy of costing and pricing within an ODM. Because of the unique platform utilized for Design On-Demand, an ODM could close the gap in time-to-quote and ensure accuracy by eliminating those “surprise” moments that come from over or underestimating the customer’s design needs.
- Design On-Demand would integrate into as ODM as a partner. When designs are needed, the customer could use a custom-branded site specific to the ODM. This means the customer never leaves the orbit of the ODM and is more likely to remain as the platform is recognized as part of the ODM’s business
- Design On-Demand would completely open access to ODM’s to all experience levels. An ODM would not have to rely just upon corporate or experienced users with established skillsets to develop their own files. But at the same time, they would not have to take on the expensive overhead required for in-house design. By allowing any skillset from “back-of-the-napkin” to hobbyist to experienced designer, the entire market is available to everyone.
New technology has created new companies in the form of On-Demand Manufacturing. And there is no need to saddle new tech businesses with old business concepts. Now, others have developed just such an Design On-Demand platform to allow On-Demand Manufacturing to move from the perception of a startup or niche concept and into the spotlight as the dominant method of production for years to come.
ZVerse is uniquely positioned to provide On-Demand Manufacturing companies and 3D Printing Service Bureaus a unique platform allowing any customer at any skill level to create print ready files. For beginners who have only drawings and sketches to those with just an idea and description, ZVerse can turn concepts into printable files. Projects are matched with design expertise with all costs quoted up front and the end user has control over the life of the project to view models prior to print. And the platform provides ODM’s with a custom-branded microsite, so they never have to lose the customer down a third-party rabbit hole.