One of the main trends previously predicted for 2021 is the accelerated adoption of turnkey solutions in additive manufacturing (AM). Over the last couple of decades, the digitization of our world has rapidly increased. From an age of globalization and just-in-time, we are now entering an age of just-in-case and localization.
A key trend emerging for the coming decade is aaS – as a Service – or XaaS – Everything as a Service. In certain industries, the aaS revolution has been happening for over a decade. In software, for example, SaaS (Software as a Service) has been gaining ground for two decades and the recent pandemic has turned even the most adamant traditionalists toward SaaS/Cloud and away from on-premise (installed) software.
Over the years, we have seen other XaaS adoption emerging such as Hardware-aaS and Insurance-aaS, both quite prevalent recently following COVID-19. AM turnkey solutions are essentially AM as a Service (AMaaS). However, AMaaS is quite different than your run-of-the-mill Manufacturing-aaS (MaaS) because of AM’s effects on the supply chain.
From Globalization to Digital Localization
Brands are now turning to local and distributed manufacturing, coupled with potential backup/emergency digital supply chains. Both the move to e-commerce and the move to local distributed manufacturing are trends well served by AM. However, answering these needs with AM requires a lot of expertise and, since the AM industry is so fragmented, OEMs must now piece together an end-to-end holistic solution from a variety of vendors of machines, process software, IP protection, consistency and tracking, post processing, and e-commerce.
They must do all this while also looking for the best of breed for each category and hiring experts or service providers to do the work. This is a tall order.
OEMs that have in house AM experience and have, or expect to have, a very large AM footprint can take on this task and create their own in-house solution. But what about those OEMs that are not in AM yet or are not sure how big their footprint will be? In other manufacturing technologies, many turnkey providers and contract manufacturers provide companies solutions for everything. The same is true for AM.
Many OEMs struggle to integrate AM into existing processes as they seek to start but with low investment, especially in the current, volatile times. Turnkey solutions enable them to start quickly and leanly, while also helping them connect various important building blocks such as, engineering services, material knowledge, process integration, e-commerce and many more.
Companies like Replique – a venture in Fortune 500 material company BASF’s Chemovator – offer a turnkey service to industrial OEMs that want to enter AM. Replique provides an industrial end-to-end platform for decentralized manufacturing of spare parts which integrates easily into existing processes. The company also has mechanisms to protect IP, monitor quality of produced parts, and provide worldwide order fulfilment. An OEM can start simple at no cost until a part is being sold.
According to Replique, IP protection, consistency enforcement, and tracking parts are important elements to include in a turnkey solution since the IP of an OEM is one of its most valuable assets, and needs to be protected by any industrial solution. Furthermore, quality parameters are to be tightly monitored when it comes to industrially used parts where OEMs guarantee their clients a certain quality.
The quality comes from a combination of AM experience, understanding the industry’s requirements, and tracking to monitor that everything is executed as planned each and every time. While LEO Lane can provide IP protection, consistency enforcement and tracking, it is up to the turnkey solutions to provide the rest using in house expertise and custom applications. Given this description, it is no wonder that turnkey solutions typically emanate from two kinds of expertise: that in a specific industry or that in AM and digital supply chains.
Keeping an Expert at Hand
In some cases, industry expertise starts with a company that puts together a solution because of a need it sees for itself. The company is then able to offer and provide parts to its own customers in a similar manner. Given customer demand, there are joint ventures and start-ups that, from day one, are aimed only at the industry from which they came.
In the maritime industry, for example, Thyssenkrupp & Wilhelmsen established a joint venture for just this purpose in 2020. The companies say this venture brings the benefits of AM technology to shipping firms by reducing the cost of spare parts, lead times and environmental footprint. In such cases, expertise can be applied repeatedly for various OEMs rather than having each OEM develop it independently, which would be inefficient both in terms of time and cost. Deep sector expertise can come from the people behind the solution or from the companies the venture is associated with, like in the case of the Thyssenkrupp-Wilhelmsen joint venture.
Some of the required expertise that is extremely important for correct AM production is not sector specific – such as material expertise. Large material companies have entered the AM industry and have developed strong AM materials expertise that can be leveraged for turnkey solutions. All this expertise can help in many of the steps offered by turnkey solutions. A good is example is the aforementioned Replique, which picks the parts and appropriate materials, converts the parts to AM-ready digital form, creates and operates a portal for selling them, and handles the AM production and logistics once the part is ordered.
Such a set up can also help in understanding customer specific needs. By being closely connected to BASF’s engineering, material knowledge and expertise in servicing industrial clients from different verticals for decades, the company understands the needs of many applications. Additionally, the company is able to provide simulation tools and in-house knowledge since BASF is also printing parts in its own production facilities.
For those OEMs considering additive manufacturing but not sure where or how to start, turnkey solutions offer a simpler introduction to the wonders of AM. In other manufacturing technologies, contract manufacturing and turnkey services are thriving, which bodes well for the prospects of the AM turnkey providers beyond just the initial foray into the technology. This is a trend that will intensify in 2021 and it will be interesting to see from up close how things play out for these ventures.
Moshe Molcho is Co-Founder and CEO at LEO Lane, an Israel-based business which helps companies to safely use digital inventories and protect their IP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.