The recent expansion of 3D printing has compelled companies across many industries to change the way they think about manufacturing. Advances in 3D printing have allowed the creation of more complex designs with less overhead and enterprise companies are taking notice. Several companies are already embracing this technology and are moving towards using 3D printing to manufacture end-use products in an effort to reduce costs and development time. For example, defense company BAE Systems successfully flew a Tornado fighter jet fitted with metal 3D printed components. BAE anticipates 3D printing technology “could cut the Royal Air Force’s maintenance and service bill by over [$1.96] million over the next four years1.” General Electric has also announced production of 3D printed metal nozzles for their oil and gas division in 2014, foreseeing production of end-use parts by 20152.
With so many 3D printers on the market, determining the most appropriate 3D printing solution for a company can become overbearing. Which printer is the most cost effective? Can a printer deliver products with similar or improved structural integrity? Which fleet of printers will provide the most diverse set of printable materials? These are the driving questions that many companies look to have answered before taking the plunge into ever-expanding universe of 3D printing.
Accenture’s Technology Labs has developed a tool integral in answering these tough questions. Our Printability Index dashboard provides clients with all the pertinent information to make an informed decision on whether 3D printing is a viable option for their company and, if so, which printers are the most practical. The index works by allowing the user to compare a list of parts that are candidates for 3D printing. This list includes detailed attributes of each part, including material composition, dimensions, and engineering requirements. Behind the scenes, a printability analysis is performed by cross-referencing a catalog of printers and printable materials against the user-provided list.
Figure 1: Printability Index Overview Page
The results of the printability analysis are displayed through an interactive dashboard. The overview page displays an analytical view of the client’s parts list, including information on the proportion of printable to non-printable parts as well as a breakdown of the material composition of the parts list. A secondary view offers a deeper part analysis, a multitude of filters to sift through parts, and graphical representations of the data. This detailed view also provides the capability to review each part in order to see a part’s attributes, the potential business impact due to part failure, and whether or not a part is printable. For printable parts, additional materials which meet or exceed the part’s engineering requirements are provided. This is important information for users who are concerned about maintaining a part’s structural integrity while consolidating printer options. Between these two pages, a user can easily understand if 3D printing fits the needs of their business.
The Printability Index is only the first component of Accenture’s 3D printing service offering. By understanding the printability of the client’s portfolio, Accenture can perform a thorough and informed business assessment to determine the most appropriate printer solution to match a client’s needs. With this service, clients can move away from cumbersome manufacturing processes to a more adaptive, customizable process driven by 3D printing. With 3D printers, it is not a stretch to imagine the ease at which a worker can submit a request for a replacement part to be printed and have that part manufactured onsite within a matter of hours. The insights provided by the Printability Index have the capability of disrupting the traditional supply chain by reducing the dependency on suppliers and warehousing real estate.
Figure 2: Printability Index Details Page