Digital transformation is taking the manufacturing industry by storm. And you don’t have to take our word for it, Gartner agrees. Whether you’re talking about additive manufacturing technology or simply adopting SaaS services, manufacturers are seeing major benefits.
36% of manufacturing enterprises are realizing above-average value from IT spending in digitalization. That means manufacturers aren’t just succeeding with digital transformation but outpacing other industries.
It’s for this reason that KETIV is so excited to see the U.S. government announcing initiatives that will keep manufacturing digitization moving forward. Key among them is Additive Manufacturing Forward (AM Forward), a partnership between U.S. OEMs including GE, Lockheed Martin, Siemens, and Honeywell designed to speed up the adoption of 3D printing technology and capabilities.
This article explores the ins and outs of AM Forward as well as the financial, environmental, and logistical benefits of additive manufacturing technology. Is additive manufacturing the future of American manufacturing? Let’s find out.
Here’s what we cover:
What is AM Forward?
AM Forward is a federal program that launched in May 2022. Its primary goal is to drive the growth of additive manufacturing in the U.S. Additive manufacturing technology refers to tech such as 3D printing, which creates parts and products by adding layer upon layer of materials like plastic and metal.
This innovative technology presents an exciting opportunity for manufacturers. Businesses can be at the forefront of this technology, building on supply chains, creating new types of products, and reducing costs and waste along the way.
Supply chain disruption was one of the key reasons that the U.S. government decided to put the AM Forward program in place. These disruptions have plagued the manufacturing industry with increasing frequency over the last few years; the number of supply chain disruptions worldwide went from 3,700 in 2019 to 11,642 in 2021—a 125% increase.
AM Forward presents a chance to buck this trend by introducing additive manufacturing technology to U.S. businesses. This is poised to reduce reliance on international supply chains and lead to more innovative, domestic products.
What Does AM Forward Mean for Manufacturers of All Sizes, at Home and Abroad?
Although we’re still in the early stages of AM Forward’s impact, this is mainly good news for domestic and international manufacturers. It will mean more competition, innovation, and a more dependable supply chain. Below are some of the expected benefits:
A more resilient and innovative supply chain
Supply chain disruptions have been a major challenge for businesses worldwide, and what we’ve learned over the last two years is: that the unexpected can and will happen.
While 55.6% of manufacturers are now using technology to increase visibility within their supply chain, additive manufacturing technology can build on this transformation, adding greater resilience to the model.
First, additive manufacturing enables manufacturers to produce more components and products in-house, which means less complex supply chains globally.
Second, by bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., global shocks won’t be as much of an issue for U.S. manufacturers, as they’ll be able to turn to domestic partners for support.
Lower barriers to adoption for additive manufacturing
The first iteration of metal 3D printers would have set a manufacturer back $1 million. Now, with additive manufacturing technology, the financial barrier to entry has been reduced and is closer to $100,000 for a complete system. It’s more cost-effective, sure, but still locks a lot of low- and medium-volume manufacturers out.
In a 2019 study, automotive, consumer electronics, plastics and packaging, and industrial machine manufacturers all agreed that the cost of 3D printing was holding them back. 94% of the sample said that their design and engineering teams frequently choose traditional manufacturing methods over AM due to the lack and price of materials.
This leads us to the next benefit and goal of AM Forward: to reduce the barriers to adopting additive manufacturing—namely, high costs. The program is an agreement between the government and specific manufacturers to purchase more AM components from domestic manufacturers and train more employees in AM, bringing prices down.
Both goals should help make investing in additive manufacturing technology easier for new companies. More talent, manufacturers, and investments in additive manufacturing will create a landscape that is more accessible to startups and established businesses.
This isn’t just important for additive manufacturing technology but for other Industry 4.0 technologies as well. It shows that the government and manufacturers are ready to take the leap and bring about the next phase of industrial progress.
An increase in U.S. innovation
AM Forward has the potential to increase American innovation. By focusing on the growth of additive manufacturing technology in America, engineers, designers, and developers in the U.S. will have a powerful new tool in their arsenal.
This will lead to innovations, design disciplines, and comprehensive new approaches within U.S. manufacturing. The result will hopefully be new inventions that are unique to American producers.
Additive Manufacturing Technology Brings Financial, Environmental, And Logistical Benefits
Additive manufacturing technology isn’t just a positive for domestic manufacturers facing supply chain issues. It carries numerous benefits and, according to McKinsey: “The benefits emerge when the unique capabilities of AM are exploited, such as by combining multiple features into a single component to reduce the overall number of parts in an assembly or to eliminate the need for subsequent fabrication or process steps.”
Here’s a quick breakdown of these benefits as we see them.
AM minimizes material and energy waste
Traditional manufacturing generally starts with a large volume of raw material that is stripped down into parts and products as efficiently as possible. This inevitably leads to a lot of waste.
With additive manufacturing, you build up rather than strip down. This means that, while some waste is unavoidable, manufacturers can dramatically cut down on their material and energy waste.
The process is efficient and reduces the need to ship materials and components between manufacturers. As AM Forward promotes growth in this sector, the energy savings are likely to be substantial, leading to a 5-27% decrease in global energy demand, according to recent findings.
AM empowers manufacturers to prototype more efficiently
Prototyping is an essential aspect of the product development process. But it can be costly, time-consuming, and resource-intensive too. Fortunately, additive manufacturing technology is an improvement over traditional methods and machinery in several ways.
For instance, additive manufacturing allows the various components of a prototype to be created using a single machine and material type. It also allows for quick exchanges of one component for another, making redesigns simple and fast. This helps to create a better experience for all involved parties, and if creating 80 or fewer prototypes, AM can work out cheaper on average too.
AM extends the life of legacy products
Among other points, the Right To Repair movement has been gaining ground in the U.S., and additive manufacturing technology is an opportunity to capitalize on this movement.
Manufacturers can use 3D printing to quickly produce components for products that are no longer being manufactured. That means that customers can stay customers for longer, and manufacturers can get ahead of potential regulatory conflicts.
As for non-legacy products, businesses will be able to provide faster and simpler repairs without needing to keep as many parts in stock.
AM cuts down on the need for on-hand inventory
Speaking of stock, the ability to reduce inventory on hand is a crucial benefit that additive manufacturing technology can offer.
That’s because many parts and products, even legacy ones, can be manufactured without needing to work through a supply chain. The idea of products and parts becoming “outdated” will itself become an outdated concept, creating a more productive market for consumers and a more lucrative one for businesses.
AM Forward — Revitalizing American Manufacturing?
As explored throughout this post, AM Forward has the potential to create new opportunities for growth, sustainability, and independence throughout U.S. manufacturing. It’s just the first step, but we’re hopeful that it’s the first of many designed to strengthen American manufacturing through additive manufacturing, one of the most exciting and innovative technologies at our disposal.