Magazine
19:40 5 June 2021
Post by: Warsaw Business Journal

Business expansion with additive technologies: dynamic production in the 21st century

LONG HAVE I SEARCHED FOR A WORD THAT WOULD ACCURATELY CAPTURE THE 3D-PRINTING MARKET, THE PRACTICAL SIDES OF RAPID PROTOTYPING, AND THE POLISH MENTALITY REGARDING TECHNICAL PROBLEMS. FINALLY, I GOT IT. THAT WORD IS “KOMBINOWAĆ,” [IN ENGLISH: “CONTRIVE” OR “CONCOCT”] WHICH SOME WOULD SAY IS A GENERAL TENDENCY IN OUR NATIONAL MENTALITY. BY MAREK LORENT-KAMIŃSKI

Business expansion with additive technologies: dynamic production in the 21st century

We, Poles, like to throw ideas around and clash them in order to figure out the best ways to solve problems. Perhaps that’s why Polish engineers are widely esteemed worldwide. This need to contrive can be partially attributed to our harsh history — full of underground conspiracies with access to very limited resources and proceeding “off the radar” in order to achieve one’s goals. Like in that popular urban legend from the 1980s where NASA was spending billions of dollars to create a “super-pen” that could work in hostile environments such as space, but we, Eastern Europeans, just took a step back and grabbed the pencil. 

In today’s nomenclature, we would call that “out-of-the-box thinking” or “design thinking.” Precisely such an attitude was forced on Poles by their past experiences.


‘CONCOCTING’ BUSINESS

Let’s apply that mentality to the business sector. Big, international companies often fall victim to bureaucracy and internal hierarchization, which slows down the realization of the initial idea. Smaller Polish companies (but not only) can go counter-procedural to achieve fast results and worry about writing down the formal procedures later.

In this mental landscape, several concepts meet the “maker’s movement,” new technologies’ applications, the nature of 21st-century production processes, and even the economic effects of the pandemic. All these areas are in desperate need of ingenuity and rapid, agile production opportunities to achieve nonstandard objectives.

Additive technologies encapsulate the 21st-century production acceleration processes spot on. Just a few examples. The fashion industry is shifting towards a “see now, buy now” approach based on rapid production. The pandemic shows us that there is a deep need for more networked production capabilities when global supply chains are being torn apart. Fast production line shifting became a critical ability during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ongoing personalization and customization of products and services create a need for more and more sophisticated customer care relations and agile production lines. Among the most interesting projects regarding product personalization, one could mention HP FitStation and Ikea’s 3D-printed add-ons for people with disabilities.


LEADING THE WAY

3D printing, as a key part of Industry 4.0, allows companies to adapt to the customer’s needs and keep ahead of their competition. The most common perception of additive technologies is their rapid prototyping capabilities. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to 3D printing, companies can easily manufacture large quantities of differentiated end-products. During the pandemic, the most important aspect of 3D printing was rapid tooling, e.g. the decision to shift production and to start manufacturing large amounts of protective shields for medical staff and essential workers was done in a matter of days. The 3D printing sector was leading the fight, as it couldn’t have been done so quickly with standard production technologies. 

Moreover, service and production maintenance downtimes are being cut short not only during the times of “peace” (regular production span) but also during “war” (Covid-19 pandemic), when access to materials is difficult, partner companies are going bankrupt and supply chains are disturbed.

In order to compare the classical and new forms of production, let’s look at injection molding and 3D printing. A new product created by injection molding requires approximately three months of work before creating the first copy of the product. With the use of 3D printing, it can be reduced to a single day. Machines operating in the area of additive technologies are now able to cover lot more materials and production steps than the older, more standard production methods. As a result, the excess of tools is eliminated and replaced by a single machine – similar to how smartphones replaced calendars, notebooks, timers, and so on.

‘CARPE MOMENTUM’

Prototyping is applicable not only in R&D departments. It is widely used to push the product to focus groups in order to verify the assumptions about the design and functionality. While the first batch of products goes “live” and covers the initial demands of the product, more conventional methods of production have enough time to start running and cover the incoming bigger demand by producing larger quantities of the product. Such hybrid methods of production allow companies to “catch the momentum” of social demand for certain solutions/products. Business opportunities appear only from time to time and it is crucial to not only catch the opportunity but to be the first to do so. Thus, rapid prototyping implies and enables rapid thinking and decision-making.

Just like in corporate communication we use the phrase “real-time marketing” to be up-to-date and grab the client’s attention by referring to ongoing events in a clever way, additive technologies allow companies to make “real-time production” possible and thus change the rules of the game. Thanks to 3D printing, manufacturing can be truly agile, rapid, and responsive. Inherently, the Polish word “kombinować’ is here to stay with us for a while — in present times of the quickly shapeshifting landscape of the global economy and even faster-changing demand for innovative products and solutions.



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