Manufacturers today are burdened by high labour rates, increasing raw material costs and the constant threat of global competition. Given the current state of the economy, manufacturers must adopt continuous improvement approaches that increase production throughput by reducing production and eliminating idle & lost time in manufacturing. To this extent, all aspects of this must be reviewed. From the initial design phase, to the prototype or pre-production phase, all the way to full scale production, minimizing cycle times at each operation is essential in reducing costs.
Rapid Tooling is one tool companies use to reduce design cycle times by streamlining development of prototypes and pre-production units. Reducing the prototype phase means to reduce the time needed to work out design flaws and assembly issues in production. Shorten this time and companies are able to shorten the lead time on product development and market introduction. For those companies able to get their products to market faster than the competition, increased revenues and higher market share are guaranteed. So, what is rapid manufacturing and what is the most time critical tool to speeding up the design and prototype phase?
Rapid Manufacturing by Way of 3D Printers
3D printers provide electrical and mechanical design engineers with essential insight into a three dimensional view of new product designs. They can immediately assess the viability of the design from the point of view of ease of manufacturing, assembly time as well as fit, form and function. In fact, being able to see the design’s overall functionality at the prototype stage is essential in both eliminating design flaws, and reducing the incidence of high cycle times in manufacturing & assembly. When design engineers can reduce the incidence of errors in design, they can not only reduce the time needed to complete prototypes using Rapid Tooling, but also save on valuable manufacturing resources that would otherwise be spent working through those design flaws.
The best companies see cycle time analysis from the viewpoint of the entire product, and not just one single production operation. There are cycle times for each stage in production, and a total cycle time for the finished product. Taking it one step further, there’s a cycle time for product design and market introduction. 3D printers and similar rapid manufacturing tools allow companies to reduce these cycle times and costs, as well as improve lead times.
For any company involved in custom-made product designs or who need rapid innovation to deliver time sensitive products, being able to benefit from rapid manufacturing practices not only reduces the time needed to finish these designs, but also helps to grow a company’s gross profit. The automotive industry is one adopter of Rapid Tooling process for prototypic new models. However, others include telecom companies in charge of large scale projects in satellite communications and terrestrial earth stations.