Realizing Digital Manufacturing’s Potential in 2019

How manufacturers define success in the fourth industrial revolution will come down to digital manufacturing capabilities. Currently, digital manufacturing is an objective on strategic roadmaps, but actually understanding how your business evolves to remain competitive and to meet the new demands is complex.

How manufacturers define success in the fourth industrial revolution will come down to digital manufacturing capabilities. Currently, digital manufacturing is an objective on strategic roadmaps, but actually understanding how your business evolves to remain competitive and to meet the new demands is complex.

According to McKinsey’s Digital Manufacturing Global Expert Survey from July, nearly 70 percent of respondents say digital manufacturing is a top priority. And a McKinsey whitepaper introduced at the World Economic Forum in Davos states that across sectors and diverse manufacturing types, there are around 40 proven innovations ready for immediate scale-up that major manufacturers can use to drive their digital transformation. Fully integrated into global manufacturing, these new technologies could create up to $3.7 trillion in additional global GDP by 2025.

If 2018 was the year of enthusiasm and the introduction of new digital manufacturing innovations, then 2019 will be the year that manufacturers accelerate their digital transformation using 3D printing and leverage new technologies like machine learning and generative design to escalate innovation.

Machine Learning Delivers A New Level of Data

A report from A.T. Kearney and HP found that 3D printing is poised to disrupt $4 to $6 trillion (USD) of the current global economy over the next 5-10 years. Such massive disruption is going to require factories to be smarter and more connected than ever before.

By integrating modern machine learning and artificial intelligence into 3D printers and control systems, engineers responsible for keeping a globally deployed fleet of printers running can send and receive terabytes of data. With continued advancements in machine learning, engineers and designers will be able to receive information about the temperature of the machine, details of what the powder looks like, what agent is being used, image data and final part geometries of 3D printed parts. They can then ask themselves was this part concise? Was it tough? Was it strong? Did it do all the things they wanted it to do?

On the design side, the combination of machine learning and 3D printing delivers the capability to monitor a part in the field. Designers and engineers can follow the finished part into the world and see how it performs in the field over its lifespan, tying the findings back to their design configurations. This works particularly well with 3D printing because it gives designers freedom and the ability to uniquely peg every part, they put out into the world with a serial number that can be tracked. We’ll see more of this real-time supply chain traceability in 2019.

Generative Design Will Increase Speed

As Siemens puts it, “generative design is an engineering process in which a human designer collaborates with artificial intelligence algorithms to generate and evaluate hundreds of potential designs for a product idea.” Goals and parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods and cost constraints, are first inputted into generative design software. The software then explores all the possible combinations and generates design alternatives. Engineers can use generative design to optimize materials and manufacturing processes to increase productivity and innovation. Once the engineering and design community embraces this automation, generative design has the potential to make designers 10-100x faster.

Some forward-thinking companies, including BMW and Airbus, are currently using generative design to solve engineering challenges. The beauty of generative design is that engineers are no longer limited by their own imagination but can instead leverage artificial intelligence to co-create better products in a faster and more sustainable fashion. It’s exciting to think about how this smart design technology will impact traditional work processes and product design.

As noted in the A.T. Kearney and HP report, innovations like machine learning and generative design will require new skill sets and will make manufacturing jobs look much different than those of the past. In fact, engineering and design roles are expected to increase in concentration disproportionately to the rest of the manufacturing sector. 3D printing is expected to increase the pace of the product lifecycles, and engineers will be required to design new products, as well as support production of existing products. With a shortened time to market, design engineers will need to help push product through to production and “un-learn” constraints of traditional manufacturing that are no longer constraints for 3D printing or generative design.

Driving the Next Wave of Additive Manufacturing

Mostly used as a rapid prototyping tool, 3D printing has been around in the automotive industry for quite some time but 2019 will be the year that additive manufacturing moves from prototyping into full production.

In the move to full production, 3D printing enables the automotive industry to innovate faster, leverage flexible manufacturing, reinvent supply chains, create new markets and produce new parts in new ways that were previously impossible. We’re already seeing major auto manufacturers, like BMW, reap these benefits. BMW recently reached its one-millionth 3D-printed part milestone. The part at hand was a window guide rail for the new BMW i8 Roadster which was produced using HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. This application reflects the increased speed 3D printing offers as HP’s technology enables BMW to produce up to 100 window guide rails within 24 hours.

According to a SmarTech report, consumption of 3D printing materials by the automotive industry will reach around $530 million by 2021. Over the last few years we’ve seen an increased focus on developing production-grade materials for auto applications as 3D printing gravitates from prototyping to full production of final parts and products.

Whether it’s a new car part, a prosthetic limb or a 3D-printed shoe, additive manufacturing will accelerate its impact on healthcare, consumer, industrial and automotive sectors in 2019, and ultimately the global manufacturing sector.

Paul Benning is HP Senior Fellow and Chief Technologist for HP 3D Printing.