The following insight is from Forbes.com
Not since the first Industrial Revolution has the manufacturing industry transformed more than it has in the last 20 years. New technologies including robotics, computer-driven manufacturing, and data analytics have helped companies increase supply chain efficiencies to keep up with demand, but what if a bigger manufacturing industry transformation was on the horizon? Take a moment and imagine manufacturing becoming fully digital, allowing us to produce and distribute custom products to meet demand in near real-time.
That’s the vision that’s being brought to reality by Chicago-based additive manufacturer Fast Radius.I recently had the privilege of visiting their facility in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood and spoke with Fast Radius Chief Executive Officer Lou Rassey and Chief Operating Officer Pat McCusker, learning more about the company, its vision and strategy, and expansive list of clients. I found the scope of what Fast Radius does stretches far past the incremental improvements in efficiency the manufacturing industry expects.
Rassey describes how the lines between manufacturing and supply chain are blurring and shared his vision of the “fourth modality” of logistics.“ In addition to transporting goods by land, water and air, we can now move parts via the Internet at the speed of light. That’s the fourth modality,” said Rassey.
Inventory can exist virtually in the cloud, brought to life by on-demand manufacturing at the moment it is needed in the location where it is needed. Fast Radius is leading the charge to make this future a reality.
“The things we make have the power to advance and transform the way we live, and the way we make things is on the brink of a fundamental paradigm shift,” said Rassey. “Additive manufacturing provides us with new and powerful tools to make things we could once only imagine and bring them into the lives of people who will use them.”
Touring the Fast Radius facility is an eye-opening experience. The efficiency of the factory—which is full of 3D printers— only requires a few people on the floor at any one time overseeing the creation of various products and parts. The space for packaging, shipping is nearly the size of the factory itself.
Fast Radius’ client success stories illustrate how transformative this new technology can be. Fast Radius partnered with the Husqvarna Group, a producer of outdoor power products for forest, park and garden care, to reimagine their spare parts supply chain. A collaborative effort, a Fast Radius team of application engineers worked with Husqvarna Group to screen and identify parts that could be produced at production scale and quality with additive manufacturing. Once identified, the team validated their performance and durability, and certified them for production and sale.
Fast Radius helped the Husqvarna Group reduce their carbon footprint through less material waste, improve customer service with no parts stockouts, and eliminate inventory carry costs, including working capital, warehousing and obsolescence.
“Our goal is to be a trusted partner and platform to clients,” said McCusker. “We aim to help companies understand what’s now possible with additive and embrace these applications at scale. Sometimes that includes helping companies make products that weren’t possible to make through traditional manufacturing.”
This idea of “making the unmakeable” that McCusker referenced is a hallmark of additive manufacturing’s promise. Thanks to new technologies and materials, engineers are now able to unlock new part geometries and assemblies. Indeed, this “make the unmakeable” ethos revealed itself in a recent Fast Radius program with Bastian Solutions, a Toyota Advanced Logistics North America company, to create the Bastian Solutions Shuttle System, a robotic materials handler.
To get to market faster, Bastian needed to make a better arm, with as much in common with the human arm as possible, from the fingertips to the elbow. They needed a design that was entirely new, and additive manufacturing made that possible.
Nearly half of the parts for the robotic shuttle system are made with additively manufactured polymers that give the robot handler’s fingers, joints and elbows more dexterity and efficiency. As well, the lightweight material allows for more sustainable operations because the additively manufactured shuttle system is able to be powered by a smaller motor and requires less power to execute its daily operations than with its previous metallic parts.
“This is the first technology from Bastian Solutions to use 3D printed parts as the final solution for the end product,” said Chris Morgan, chief innovation officer, Bastian Solutions. “Manufacturing the parts through additive reduced costs by a quarter of what traditional costs would have been and reduced production time. As a result, we were able to get the robot handler to market faster.”
Husqvarna and Bastian Solution’s projects are just two of the countless applications for additive manufacturing. Companies are eager to write their own success stories with this new technology, but they’re often daunted by the sheer breadth of possibility. To address this, Fast Radius has developed an Application Launch Program that walks companies through the process of identifying and employing the additive manufacturing techniques that will bring innovative products and solutions to market quickly.
The supply chain implications are huge. As cited by 3D Printing Industry, Fast Radius’ proprietary cloud-based software facilitates application discovery, design, and production. Moreover, the company has a virtual warehouse which securely stores the digital designs and production specifications of its customers’ parts. Just on a surface level, this eliminates inventory costs for storing parts physically—imagine the implications for warehousing and inventory optimization. Manufacturers depend on logistics companies to provide a network of global storage sites. Fast Radius complements physical part storage with virtual parts storage and on-demand production.
In addition, producing parts closer to customers will in turn reduce transportation costs, moving from linear supply chains that store excess inventory to agile networks that can quickly respond to consumer demands. This can reduce the need to outsource manufacturing overseas, and challenges how the industry has thought about global trade.
“Instead of focusing solely on physical flows of goods, companies will find that value will also be driven by the digital flow of products,” said Rassey.
Can 3D printing actually replace all manufacturing as we know it? For now, no. Deloitte Insights explained in a recent paper that 3D printing is still more expensive per part than using a CNC machine for most products, and can take hours per part instead of minutes. However, there are parts that can only be made with 3D printing, and situations in which part volumes are so low that neither traditional nor subtractive manufacturing is optimal.
As supply chains digitize, business interactions will be more transparent, real-time and collaborative. Integrating 3D printing will become a natural fit for these supply chains. It will simplify historically cumbersome processes, provide more attractive economics, and perhaps most importantly, it will drive innovation with new products and business models.
Read the full article in Forbes.com