There’s no getting away from the fact that we live in an increasingly impatient culture, through which we have become accustomed to getting exactly what we want, exactly when we want it. Far from being just a new buzzword, on-demand manufacturing is shaping the future of the manufacturing industry and bringing expectations up to date with modern attitudes. So what is on-demand manufacturing and how can it benefit your business?
On-Demand Manufacturing - An Overview:
On-demand manufacturing is a flexible model that allows the end user to order the exact quantity of parts they need, precisely when they need them. Unlike traditional manufacturing models which typically require the purchaser to order more parts than they would need, on-demand manufacturing offers a much more tailored solution. It also facilitates shorter lead times, meaning that less foresight is needed and last-minute deadlines can be met.
On-demand manufacturing is gaining prominence due to advancements within plant, machinery and software, as well as the surge in popularity surrounding additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing has long been credited with eliminating tooling costs and lowering lead times, making it ideal for prototyping and short production runs. That’s not to say that on-demand manufacturing is limited to additive manufacturing - in fact, it’s becoming more and more commonplace for a range of engineering processes such as machining, laser cutting and injection moulding.
How Can On-Demand Manufacturing Be Used?
There are a variety of potential applications for on-demand manufacturing. Time-sensitive projects will benefit greatly from the reduced lead times that on-demand manufacturing offers, making it an ideal solution to tackle unforeseen circumstances - for instance, to produce spare parts to fix a machinery breakdown. It can also be used within the prototyping and development stages of a project, with the associated fast turnaround often meaning that a product can be tested and brought to market sooner than through the use of a traditional manufacturing model. On-demand manufacturing can also be utilised for the production of larger batches, whilst cutting out the need for inventories and warehouse space.
What are the Benefits of On-Demand Manufacturing?
I spoke with design engineer Alex, who uses on-demand manufacturing to deliver 3D printed parts within a short timescale. Cost and short lead times are essential considerations within design engineering, meaning that on-demand manufacturing has streamlined these early stages of product development, resulting in optimum efficiency in bringing a new design to market.
‘On-demand manufacturing has been a brilliant way of reducing lead times,’ said Alex. ‘We design a component in Solidworks and send the file to an on-demand manufacturer, who will provide us with a 3D-printed prototype the next day - or sometimes even later in the same day.’
‘Because the prototype is made from plastic, it’s usually quite cheap which is great for test fitting purposes,’ he continued. ‘Once the design has been finalised, you can look to have it made in metal.’
So is time-saving the only benefit of using on-demand manufacturing services?
‘From a design perspective, it’s always better to get a cheaper, one-off prototype quickly through the use of on-demand manufacturing,’ Alex explained. ‘It means we don’t have to order a larger batch in line with the supplier’s minimum order quantities, which will take a lot longer to arrive and cost more.’
‘On-demand seems to be the way that technology is leaning these days and it’s benefitting everybody,’ he continued. ‘Companies aren’t having to sit on stock - they can just get what they want, when they need it.’
‘Even people who haven’t used on-demand manufacturing before seem to be converted very quickly once they do, which speaks volumes about its convenience.’
Is On-Demand the Future of Manufacturing?
More and more companies are utilising on-demand manufacturing due to the extensive benefits it provides. As well as flexibility, on-demand manufacturing allows companies to cut back on - or completely remove - the need for warehousing, as batch sizes are ordered to spec and therefore, there is no surplus that needs to stored away. In addition, manufacturers who have previously found themselves at the mercy of the market have reduced risk - if a product fails to sell as well as expected, then money and stock have not been wasted as a result.
With advancements in plant and software gaining pace rapidly - and automation becoming more and more prominent in the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution - it is almost certain that we will see on-demand manufacturing become something of a standard model in years to come. Whilst it is currently offered only by specialist suppliers whose in-house setup facilitates a short-to-zero lead time, on-demand manufacturing has simply brought the sector up-to-date with modern expectations. Further technological breakthroughs will likely centre around the facilitation of faster turnarounds to the wider market, resulting in knock-on improvements throughout the entirety of the supply chain.
Have you used on-demand manufacturing? What are your thoughts? Leave us a comment below!