In the last ten years, a lot has been written on the concept of disruption and disrupting technology. A lot of that discussion has centered around technologies like 3D printing in the first part of this century, and personal computers/transistors in the second half of the last century. Each one drove significant change and created new industries while obsoleting others. And few would disagree that Amazon has disrupted everything from retail to shipping to logistics to marketing to big data analytics.
But disruption doesn’t have to be related to technology and “things” to be effective. Often, disruption can be a philosophy or even a business model. One example is Netflix, whose idea to mail discs to and from video consumers turned into streaming, which then obsoleted video stores and is now in the process of Disruption Phase II, driving cord cutting and pulling viewers away from networks and cable providers. Granted, both Amazon and Netflix do rely heavily upon technology, but disruption can often be a very fancy way of calling something a “really good idea”.
On-Demand Manufacturing – A Really Good Idea
Advances in 3D modeling and the ongoing maturation of 3D printing equipment and consumables has been at the forefront of a combination of disrupting technologies. The arrival of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) was made possible through the ability to capture data at astounding rates in both old and retrofitted equipment. And thus, the concept of a “smart” factory was born, and it’s driving new investment and new methods within traditional manufacturing.
But in addition to driving change in traditional manufacturing, the Internet of Things has helped usher in a new production model for On-Demand Manufacturing. Here, the power of 3D printing, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and the ability to link them all in a way that responds to customers “on-demand” has created a disruptive model as well. In On-Demand Manufacturing, goods are produced when they are required. It is scalable and adjustable depending on real-time data inputs from connected devices. Manufacturers require little inventory, saving space and the associated costs that come with warehousing. It also relies upon the interconnected shop floor to control waste and to prevent overages or shortages. The result is customized production on a per customer basis at or close to the cost formerly achieved through mass production.
But, as in every disruptive technology or system, there are always barriers. With computers it was processing speed, and with 3D printing it has always been material strength versus equipment capabilities. For On-Demand Manufacturing, the barrier to growth is often design. For as automated as the systems have become, and as advanced as the technology is, the design phase is still a creative process where ideas must be put into understandable form and then digitized.
To address the design dilemma, ODM’s have opted for a piecemeal solution. Some ODM’s only accept print-ready files. This allows them to focus on optimizing production and providing what is presented to them. Others recommend a third-party design house or individual to complete the 3D design work for those without the skillset or software to do it themselves. And yet, other ODM’s have opted for a staffed option, providing design services ranging from simple file fixing to “concept to file” turnkey service. Each of these paths have associated costs and both positive and negative impacts upon the ODM. But no one path has become the standard, and none of them remove the barrier, they only find less than optimal ways to work around them. To remove the barrier, ODM’s will have to change and adopt another solution for design.
Design on Demand – An Even Better Idea
Current efforts by ODM’s to remove the design barrier seem to have more negatives than positives. For those with in-house staff there is danger of out of control overhead costs during slowdowns. For recommended third party design there is added time lag and potential quality or compatibility issues if not outright co-optation by the recommended designer. And for “print-ready only”, there is the danger of shutting out entrepreneurs, engineers and hobbyists who don’t have the requisite skillset for 3D modeling but who could drive a lot of business to an ODM.
As ODM’s seek to change, they must realize that all the barrier “workarounds” work dynamically the same as similar solutions in older manufacturing models. Each one adds a step, ignores a segment of the customer base or drives up costs. As a result, design remains the one piece of the ODM puzzle tied to old methodology, rendering it out of place in a true ODM environment. To truly remove the barrier, on-demand manufacturers must use the same agile concepts and technology that brought their model into existence and apply them to design.
Using the same dynamics as On-Demand Manufacturing, Design on Demand operates with similar deliverables. Designs are created when they are required and completed to the realization of the customer’s design vision and then presented to the ODM in print-ready format. They must also be accessible to all skill levels from experienced designer to intermediate to sketch to simple oral concept. In this way the playing field to having a design completed is levelled and print-ready files can be obtained by anyone.
A Design on Demand Model working in conjunction with an ODM would have several attributes:
- Creative ideas would be brought to the ODM for production. Every project starts with an idea. And some of the best design ideas come from those without the skillset to operate a 3D modeling program.
- The Design on Demand platform would be accessible through the ODM ecosystem. This provides seamless access to the platforms roster of designers in white label form under the umbrella of the ODM. The customer never sees the backend and the ODM is free from associated overhead costs.
- The customer describes what they want in real language, drawings, photos or files. The platform provides designers who can bring the concept to life and return it as a print-ready file, and the customer is kept in the loop along the way and can even approve the design.
- The print-ready file can be produced by the ODM. This keeps the customer relationship loop closed to the benefit of the ODM.
A model of Design on Demand such as this would deploy the same principles and reliance upon technology, the cloud and interconnected devices as are used by ODM’s. This removes design as a barrier and improves the ODM model conceptually rather than taking steps backwards in the form of design barrier workarounds.
The model described is currently the operational model for ZVerse, a Design on Demand platform with white label design service for ODM’s. ZVerse’s platform leverages US-based designers to take design concepts that are passed on by customers through the ODM’s custom-branded microsite and render them into print-ready files. The resulting design removes the design barrier from the ODM model, flattening the last “peak” and doing so in a way that builds the principles of “On-Demand” into the design process.
ZVerse’s unique platform allows any level of user to take advantage of 3D technology. For beginners who have only drawings or sketches to those with just an idea and description, ZVerse can turn concepts into printable files and printed products. Projects are matched with design expertise with cost quoted up front and the end user has control over the life of the project. And customers can view the models prior to print. These solutions make can make Zverse a valuable partner in breaking down the design barrier for On-Demand Manufacturing.