With recent global events causing severe disruption to traditional supply chains and production operations, many companies have been forced to revisit their business models and make bold changes to ensure survival.
Yann Rageul, Head of Manufacturing for EMEA at Stratasys, gives us his take on the impact of 3D printing during the pandemic, as well as its suitability to counter supply chain complexities and increase production flexibility.
Why do you feel supply chain disruption is becoming more commonplace?
“Because we have become accustomed to fast supply chains, many companies have opted for just-in-time production to ensure lean supply chains and to keep expenses down. This works until the supply chain is disrupted, and this is becoming the norm.
“According to a June 2019 survey, the Brexit situation resulted in more supply chain disruption over five years than cyber-attacks and natural disasters combined.1 Similarly, the US and China trade war has caused uncertainty around supply chains, especially for companies with suppliers in either country.
“As a result, following the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies made changes to their supply chains to avoid permanent disruption to their business. Harnessing a company-wide digital inventory, Siemens Mobility can now react quickly to changes in service requests by 3D printing essential tools and replacement parts for its trains on-site, as required.”
To what extent did COVID-19 impact supply chains, and how significant are the repercussions?
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of traditional supply chains, which led to a complete shutdown of production virtually overnight. Adidas, for example, saw a shutdown of 8090% of its business, resulting in a loss of revenue of $US100m every week.3 When supply chain problems caused extreme production backlog, Jaguar Land Rover even transported urgently needed automotive parts around the world in suitcases.”
What role does 3D printing play in overcoming this?
“With this level of uncertainty, manufacturing and supply chain leaders are seeking solutions that bring speed and adaptability so production can ramp up and down, switch gears or even shift to new locations. This has put the spotlight on 3D printing.
“During the pandemic, 3D printing offered manufacturers the ideal solution to facilitate an immediate switch in production. Traditionally, producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is done via injection moulding, but it takes several weeks or months to produce the moulds, and once they are created, the design cannot be modified.
“Similarly, other products like ventilators, require costly and time-consuming tooling work before manufacturing can begin. In contrast, 3D printing is like an electric motor – flip a switch and it is immediately on full power. What’s more, there’s no tooling required and a 3D printer can make 10 different things in sequence as easily as it can make 10 parts that are identical.”
Can you give us some examples of where this really came to the fore?
“Automakers like Daimler, Ford and Jaguar Land Rover used their 3D printing firepower to pivot production and create PPE. Stratasys’ own coalition of over 150 companies – among them the likes of Boeing, Toyota and Medtronic – produced over 100,000 3D printed face shields alone in just a couple of months. Meanwhile, GM turned to 3D printed tooling to quickly convert production lines designed for automobiles into ventilator production lines.
“One of our other customers, a French hospital went a step further by bringing this on-demand production capability on-site. The University Hospital Trust (AP-HP) in Paris invested in 60 F123 Series 3D printers to provide the self-sufficiency it needed. Unable to wait for its suppliers to traditionally manufacture vital medical equipment, the hospital quickly produced thousands of parts on-site using its farm of 3D printers.
“These included protective face shields and masks, electrical syringe pumps, intubation equipment and respirator valves. Post-crisis, the 3D printers will be allocated across AP-HP’s network to enable even more distributed manufacturing capabilities. This will allow them to react faster in the event of another wave or other future crisis.”
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Images courtesy of Stratasys