“3D PRINTING IS CUTTING AWAY THE NEED FOR UPFRONT INVESTMENTS IN TOOLING AND INVENTORY”
Imagine you are a Senior Design Engineer in charge of your companies’ new product development. The marketing department just came up with the latest market trends and insights and shared their ideas for a new range of lighting products. They underlined the importance of a fast availability of the new products in order to stay ahead of the competition. Equally, there’s only limited time left to the next trade event, such as an impactful Light+Building or Lightfair International show, where the companies full (bi)annual catalogue collection will be presented to a global audience of lighting engineers, designers, specifiers and buyers.
Excellent Team Work
Thanks to the great work of the market intelligence team, accurate information on the latest technology advancements is available on demand. The engineers are doing a great job and succeeds in merging together freshly adapted tech novelties into a new luminaire. Finally, the selection and sourcing of relevant fixture components for completion of the bill of materials (BOM) turns out in successful team work.
There are, however, a few bottlenecks that need to be killed first, at least before starting the physical development process:
1) Initial Mold Investments
Before having a physical product in hand, investments in appropriate prototype and manufacturing tooling, e.g. for heat sinks and illumination optics, are needed. Prices for durable tooling vary from thousands to tens of thousands Euros, depending on what material and longevity you may choose. When informing the Financial Officer about the funds needed he gets crazy. Especially when you ensure him there’s some uncertainty about the exact outcome, and another investment round may be needed at a later stage. All those pain points need to be addressed against a high level of uncertainties. Will the final outcome be satisfactory to all of us? Is there a change that we need to restart the tool manufacturing process to get a properly matching part? Do we need to make any in-process changes? Software simulations are great, but every manufacturing process, unfortunately, has its tolerances. Time pressure is high with zero room for further delays.
2) Enhanced Buying Power
In order to get the most competitive prices, the purchase department is set to negotiate the best conditions. That will be a tough job since they intend to order a customized manufacturing tool. There’s almost zero room for negotiating, at least not without accepting any future commitments. In fact, getting good prices means large minimum order quantities, i.e. a waste of money and a huge stock since forecasts never work and products rapidly evolve.
3) Warehousing Solutions
The stock-keepers, on their turn, are unhappy when they got told that dozens of identical new products are about to arrive shortly. The warehouse was fully booked for a while already, and the new deliveries make the facility collapse. And no single complaint about maintaining the stock, stock positions and annual balance sheets at a correct level. That’s just their “part of the job”.
4) Supply Chain Optimization
The operating officers at the end were quite unhappy with all those new product flows. Transporting the goods requires a lot of planning work, handling and coordination before the different components arrived at the companies warehouse for further assembly. Instead of using existing parts readily from stock, new parts are sourced in order to meet the rapid changing market demand.
All Unhappy Workers
In addition to the formerly mentioned, some other frustrations may appear, and at the end, all are unhappy: the financial director lost his money, the warehouse keeper is not happy with the huge load of new products that arrived, the buyers at the purchase department feel pretty uncomfortable as if they did have had no room to negotiate the best possible deal.
It CAN be different, though…
When using 3D printing technologies, there is no need for investments in expensive and time consuming tooling anymore. At the same time, the limitations of tooling are gone since the full manufacturing process went digital, straight from a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file into a real end product. New design freedom and product design opportunities arise without tie and expenses needed, as before. The available engineering budget can be spent now on the real engineering work: find out what’s the best mix in terms of components, durability, mounting features, system efficacy, effective functionality and connectivity of the lighting fixture. It’s become now as easy to manufacture one single lighting module as to replicate it into hundreds of identical parts. All you need is just a 3D printer, a dozen of different materials, a skilled designer and a ‘smooth’ operator.
From ‘Standardization’ to ‘Customization’
Customization is a great thing. 21st Century lighting design sectors and architecture start to discover the ‘power’ and ‘design freedom’ they can unlock and start moving away from standard products towards real customized lighting products for their projects. It forces production badges moving down from hundreds of identical lighting modules into ‘tens of pieces’ to meet specific project requirements. Even specific items within the project or ‘mass customization’ is now possible, meaning that easily 1,000 parts may look exactly the same but slightly differ from each other.
3D printing brings the lighting industry attractive cost advantages that can be ignored no longer. Those companies that understand the added value for their business well and adopt this new manufacturing technology will benefit most in the years to come. They will be able to make the difference in the future of the lighting industry and will be true leaders in todays 3D printing revolution.