Distributed Manufacturing: Part 1

There are a number of models in practice of new distributed manufacturing concepts, but in general it is an overall trend to decentralize and localize production.  Also known as distributed production, cloud producing or local manufacturing, distributed manufacturing is practiced by enterprises using a network of geographically dispersed manufacturing facilities that are coordinated using digital technology. 

 

Traditional Manufacturing takes place in a factory and location dedicated to the production of one or more products or a family of products. The company invests heavily in equipment, technical talent, and facilities to produce their product from a central location. The products are then transported directly to the customer or a distribution warehouse which may be many miles away.  Often, the technical staff comes from other locales and or countries and is re-located to the company’s site. There is significant capital and overhead cost to the company under this model.


With the advent of 3-D printing, and the maturity of the technology, any product that can be produced using this technology, lends itself, very well, to Distributed Manufacturing.  I attended the Digifab Conference in Baltimore in 2015. During that conference, I learned that there are over 200 materials that can be 3-D printed. I also heard the term “Garage Manufacturing” used for the first time.


Sarah Boisvert, the organizer for the conference, has worked in digital fabrication for many years.  While Sarah’s main work has been in development of laser and laser machine tool products, she also has extensive experience in 3D Printing.  Together we started the original DigiFab Conference in Maine in 2010 in order to explore how new technologies like 3D Printing are changing the world, including manufacturing.

 

Ms. Boisvert founded Fab Lab Hub, a non-profit, that is one of over 1,200 Fab Labs in the MIT-based Fab Lab Network.  Fab Lab Hub fosters entrepreneurship and New Collar workforce training in digital fabrication manufacturing skills such as 3D Printing, CAD design, rapid prototyping and laser machining. Fab Lab Hub operates digital fabrication contract service centers at the Santa Fe Business Incubator and the Santa Fe Community College Innovation Center, which provide paid internships for students in Digital Badge training programs.  Sarah’s book, New Collar Job Training, from Photonics Media, will be out in the late fall of 2017.  The book describes how blue color jobs have become digitized to New Collar Jobs and new types of training programs needed to meet 21st century manufacturers’ needs.

 

After Digifab Baltimore, I was intrigued with the idea of “Garage Manufacturing”.  To test out the concept, I have embarked on a Distributed Manufacturing experiment. I have developed a new product, the UTA, which can be manufactured using 3-D printing. The product has a functional use, and also a decorative use. It can be made in many sizes, many materials, many colors and many designs. The permutations and combinations of the variables are in the thousands. Therefore, it would be too costly and it would not make any sense to build plastic injection molds for each one of the permutations of the product.  Mass customization is one of the best examples of when 3D Printing is the production method of choice, therefore, the manufacturing method that makes sense and is most economical for my product is 3-D printing or 3-D manufacturing. 
 
Currently the Maine FabLab at Engine in Biddeford, ME has developed the STL files for two sizes and two styles of the UTAs. A very talented high school sophomore, Wyatt Laprise, has developed the STL files and has produced the proof of concept parts out of ABS plastic. The second stage will be to print prototypes and evaluate the use of conductive filament material. The functional models will be produced, thereafter.


The marketing plan is straightforward. The potential customer base is enormous. Once the orders start coming in, the STL files can be downloaded to any one of the 1,200 FabLabs throughout the world. Each FabLab could specialize in a particular size, a particular material, a particular color, or a particular design. The orders would be directed to the respective FabLab for production and shipment to the customer. 


This is the Amazon.com model for shipping to customers. Amazon.com has many suppliers. Orders are sent to the suppliers who then ship directly to the customer. That would be the model for the UTAs.


Reference:    “The Rise of Distributed Manufacturing and 7 Advantages over Traditional Manufacturing”
 

Manufacturing // Adam Robinson // April 2, 2014 

 


 “7 advantages of Distributed Manufacturing and why this will become the norm over the decade to come.”
 

1. By manufacturing items closer to their end destination, the logistics costs can be reduced, with a corresponding favorable impact on the environment. This also reduces the lead time from order entry to delivery to the customer.
 

2. By leveraging the expertise of a larger remote network, the production limitations, such as manufacturing location and the cost of full time employees are eliminated or reduced. 
 

3. Without permanent investment in facilities, the manufacturing supply chain becomes more agile. In modern business, this is not only a necessity, but a requirement for a successful business. A company must be able to expand and contract their infrastructure, in response to market demands and fluctuations, in order to stay competitive and survive.

 

4. In the Distributed Manufacturing model, it is possible to distribute workloads across multiple suppliers, thus reducing risk. A failure on a single production line could jeopardize the business and or the company. There is a reduced risk if there is a failure on a single production line in a total of ten or more production lines.
 

5. Manufacturers are also able to support multiple smaller economies by distributing their factories. If aiming to sell in a location, it makes both a financial sense and a moral sense to support the local economies.
 

6. Outsourcing to multiple, smaller facilities allows companies to make use of existing experts in the local areas. Many larger production lines will develop in house techniques, but this takes significant time and investment.
 

7. By opening up the supply chain to a network, a company can make use of excess capacity where it exists. Many factories in the United States operate at less than full capacity. There is an opportunity to fill idle capacity through Distributed Manufacturing.

 


Next: An update on the progress of the functional models. READ HERE
 

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