Winning Formula: Securing, certifying and increasing production with Additive Manufacturing Additive manufacturing (AM) is

increasingly being integrated within the production operations of

companies around the world. Here,

Lee-Bath Nelson, co-founder and VP business at LEO Lane, looks at how, with the right software solutions, manufacturers can enjoy safe,

repeatable and trackable production

while also ensuring that fundamental certification requirements are adhered to


epending on the industry, the cost of an idle production line is very high.

In the food industry, the costs can be hundreds of thousands of pounds a day, while in the automotive industry the number is close to £17,000 a minute per line – that’s over £1 million an hour! No wonder manufacturing managers will go to great lengths to get lines back up and running quickly, even flying someone out to get a spare part. The reliability, consistency, and predictability of tools and spare parts is key for avoiding such measures. Fortunately, with additive manufacturing (AM)/3D printing, there are ways to minimise this downtime – especially when the culprit is tooling. With AM, manufacturers can quickly and

cost-effectively 3D print tools on demand at or near their facility. This ensures the line is down for the absolute minimal time and a replacement tool is on hand at any time – something simply not possible

In the food industry, the cost of an idle production line can be hundreds of thousands of pounds a day

with any other manufacturing technology. The great thing about tools is that

they are designed and controlled by the manufacturer so the move to AM is an internal decision. Providing the tools are produced in a consistent manner, this move will reduce the cost of tooling and lower the line’s downtime. For tools that need replacing often, it’s possible to go a step further and keep one or two 3D printed tools on hand and, when they’re being used, 3D print another.

REPLACEMENT PARTS AM can also help overcome other production line headaches like missing spare parts, which are another major cause of unproductive lines. Unlike tooling, machinery manufacturers own the designs of these parts, and they can offer them as digital assets that can be consistently produced on demand and in limited quantities close to their production line. Such an approach can significantly reduce downtime. In some cases, AM can produce a

replacement part but it might not be as robust as a part manufactured in the traditional way. In this case, the equipment manufacturer can offer a 3D printed emergency spare part to keep the line going until the regular part arrives, helping to prevent weeks of downtime. The key is to get the line back up quickly without compromising quality. This comes down to consistent, repeatable tools and parts (across time and across production lines). Thankfully, there are Software as a

Service (SaaS) solutions that can protect such items from being altered, output on the wrong printer or accessed by an unauthorised party. This ensures correct, repeatable, and consistent production


3D printed Mini air vent

of the tool or part, which is a necessary ingredient to the shared goal of manufacturing managers everywhere: a functional line that’s always (or almost always) running.

CERTIFICATION In addition to its ability to help minimise downtime, a fundamental benefit of AM is its inherent flexibility, allowing the manufacture of different parts and products, sometimes on the same printer bed. However, this flexibility creates a challenge when it comes to certification – something that is a must in many industrial sectors. Typically, within conventional

manufacturing, normal practice is to certify the production line of the particular part or product made on it. The line is then used only for the certified production of this specific part. In most manufacturing techniques, this is a one- time certification that can last for up to a year and permits the line to produce the certified part during that period. To complete the part’s certification, the material the part is made of is also usually certified as a prerequisite. In conventional manufacturing, certifying the material and the production process can be enough to certify the product. In more exacting certification cases, the workflow and other components (including, potentially, the people handling the workflow) must also be certified. This kind of certification is sufficient

for two main reasons: first, the material entering the process corresponds in a unique way to the material of the final item. That’s to say that, it’s either the same material (as in CNC) or it is a material with predictable properties (as in injection moulding or casting).


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