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Reducing risk through on-demand manufacturing

Utilising the model of on-demand manufacturing in strategic supply chain management can be critical to the success of life cycle planning and product development. Today, effective supply chain operations not only place an emphasis on cost savings but also focus on using the elements in the process, to build and grow, reduce risks and be as responsive as possible to market demands.

By incorporating safeguards such as high-end software, pilot production, prototyping and bridge production, some of the key risks to growth can be offset, and time to market rapidly improved. An organisation armed with both proactive and reactive tools can be distinctly more competitive than their rivals.

One of the key actions an organisation can take is to maintain and improve its supply chain, protecting against delays and allowing more time for unforeseen additional processes that may be required. These safeguarding measures need to be taken into consideration and implemented where necessary at each stage of the product life cycle.

1. Using software to speed up the quotations process

The process of receiving and requesting quotations is a necessary exercise in supply chain management but it can cause significant delays over a period of time. As a solution, online quotations that draw on intelligent software that’s able to conduct useful analysis, can highlight potential faults or issues, sometimes saving weeks in the design process. For example, there could be fundamental concerns relating to a product that can only be learned in the quotation process, if this is missed due to ineffective quoting systems, there could be expensive gaps in production.

2. Considering different prototyping

Producing prototypes can be necessary through all stages of the product cycle, helping to tangibly identify a myriad of issues which may require a rework of the product to ensure it is functioning effectively. However, producing so many prototypes does come at a cost and has time implications too. So, how can you help remove some of these delays and financial issues?

Additive manufacturing (or 3D printing as it is also known) is one alternative which has proved an ideal, cost-effective way of producing prototypes that test functionality and form ahead of mass production. The process is performed by producing layers and layers of a design taken from a digital file on a 3D printing machine. The time it takes to produce is impressively short and it is possible to improve lead times by more than double, in some instances.

Another prototyping option is conventional methods, for example, CNC machining and injection moulding. This rapid manufacturing alternative is preferred by those who need a process with fewer constraints in terms of design capabilities than 3D printing.

An improved delivery time can help with unforeseen future delays which may also cost time, upstream. It also means there can be many different revisions in a short space of time, helping to eliminate any late modifications and putting time pressures on.

3. Thinking differently about pilot production

When we think of pilot production our thoughts turn to product trials, sales and marketing tests and assessments of products from customers, all carried out before full manufacturing processes are given the green light. At this stage, further adjustments can be made based on feedback.

Pilot products are typically made in ‘approximation’ to the final product, and it is this leeway between the pilot and final product that makes way for technology such as CNC machining and 3D printing to be used to replicate injection moulded parts for the interim test period. This can improve delivery times, and ultimately cut costs.

4. Utilising bridge production

Bridge manufacturing denotes the time period after production has started and before the final products have been delivered. This ensures accuracy and quality and reduces long lead times. Used when expected timeframes have not been met, this bridging is carried out alongside product orders, to get products to market as quickly as possible.

For instance, soft tooling is used so that automation features that are not necessarily required for low volume production, can be removed to accelerate delivery times. This method means that because response times are quicker, unexpected delays are counterbalanced.

Also, if product faults are discovered late on in the process, due to errors occurring during the evaluation and testing stages, then bridging can again be utilised. Instead of making costly tool repairs or worrying about a less than adequate product going to market, it’s possible to use bridging to apply adjustments to tooling without having inevitable delays. 

Utilising on-demand manufacturing

Incorporating intuitive software, carefully considering the most effective prototyping and pilot production for products, and opting for bridge production can make a huge impact on the success of a product’s market debut.

Anticipating challenges and leveraging advantages with different technologies at the right juncture provides a big leading edge on competitors. These mechanisms in supply chain strategy allow for growth to flourish while taking away risks, solving problems and controlling budgets.

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