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Additive Manufacturing: What benefits and how to exploit them?

Implemented since the 1990s for rapid tool manufacturing, additive manufacturing or three-dimensional printing dedicated to industrial applications has reached a stage of maturity allowing production in small or medium series. The principles of this technology are now widely understood and major groups actively communicate within the specialized press on demonstrators and success stories.

Beyond the announcement effects, however, we note that the effective implementation of additive manufacturing remains in reality extremely marginal because its concrete benefits are not clearly identified. On the other hand, any industrial company should be concerned about the potential of this innovation, which deserves to be described as "strategic" in the sense of Geroski and Marksides(1), in that it constitutes a major technological advance that has a strong impact on the company's internal organisation and skills.

1.Markides, C.C. and Geroski, P.A. (2005) Fast Second : How Smart Companies Bypass Radical Innovation to Enter and Dominate New Markets, London, Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.

When exploring the potential of additive manufacturing, 3 precautions should be taken:

  • Assessing the benefits of technology

    The failure of 3D printing for the general public and its corollary of resounding bankruptcies was a reminder that a reasoning on the uses and value created by additive manufacturing is essential prior to any investment approach.

  • Not to be advised exclusively by machine and powder dealers

    As the concrete benefits of this process are not yet well understood, the predominant discourse remains techno push: three-dimensional printing should be adopted because it is innovative.

    This commercial message is currently carried by machine and powder manufacturers, who present the technical capabilities of their products without explaining the associated value creation potential at the customer.

  • Protecting your product portfolio

    Unlike the so-called conventional manufacturing technologies, the additive manufacturing processes currently available are not "open", in the sense that the torque[process; material] is generally imposed: the machine manufacturer uses only his "in-house" technology, using a single type of powder of which he is often the only distributor.

    For an inexperienced industrialist, the risk is then to design new products around a specific process, and thus to find himself bound feet and fists with the manufacturer.

    The major groups have made no mistake about it, investing in their own machinery to develop and master their own processes and ideally validate alternative materials available in open source.

To avoid these pitfalls and reap all the benefits of industrial 3D printing, it is necessary to question the value that this new process brings to an industrial activity. For this, we will see that it is necessary not to focus on the performance achievable by the process but rather to methodically examine its value creation potential with regard to a portfolio of products.

Thus, after having explained and illustrated that the benefits of the technology are today mainly indirect or induced, we will explain the 3 main families of contribution of this new technology. The types of approach used to identify and capture these benefits within an industrial activity will then be detailed. Finally, we will describe the structured approach that IAC uses with its industrial customers to build their additive manufacturing roadmap.

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