Solving Supply Chain Disruptions with Additive Manufacturing

| The Essentium Team

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Solving Supply Chain Disruptions with AM

Is your business prepared to carry on in the event of a supply chain disruption? You might have the raw material or parts inventory on hand to get through a few days, but what about the long term? Many factories will eventually grind to halt, unless there is a response plan in place.

This article discusses how additive manufacturing (AM), and Essentium’s High Speed Extrusion (HSE) technology are solving supply chain disruptions of any duration and future-proof your company.

Take Matters into Your Own Hands with AM

AM allows factories to maintain control over production capabilities in the face of any challenge. An industrial-grade 3D printing solution like the Essentium HSE 3D Printing Platform and spools of filament are the only tools required to produce critical components to keep production lines moving – in-house, on-demand, for only the cost of materials.

AM eliminates delays associated with outside vendors and can reduce the need for molds by directly manufacturing parts at scale. In cases where a new or replacement mold is absolutely necessary, engineers can 3D print a temporary mold to make the tool in-house until the vendor-supplied mold is available.

Manufacturers can closely monitor quality control in real-time as parts come off the printer bed, and use multiple 3D printers in parallel to achieve production at scale. That’s exactly what Essentium did when asked to respond to the personal protection equipment (PPE) shortage in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when many first responders were being forced to reuse disposable masks or work without protective gear.

 

Forge Your Own Supply Chain with the Essentium 3D Printing Platform

Initially, Essentium was going to jump into the PPE market through traditional means, creating molds, purchasing injection molding machines, and setting up off-site production. When the timeframe for the delivery of molds stretched from two to seven weeks due to COVID-19 and with mask shortages growing more critical by the day, Essentium did the one thing traditional manufacturers could not: it bridged the supply chain gap with additive manufacturing.

While waiting for the molds, Essentium designed and 3D printed reusable mask frames for use with disposable filtration media using our the HSE 180 3D Printing Platform. In a space of just 36 hours, Essentium engineers created the first prototype, progressed through a total of 25 design modifications, and perfected a final design for mass production. A fleet of 10 HSE 180•ST 3D Printers at Essentium’s headquarters in Texas produced more than 25,000 mask frames in 90 days. It operated 24/7 without assistance from outside suppliers, experienced no logistical nightmares, and did not require a single mold.

 

Bursting with Capacity

25,000 mask frames in 90 days sounds impressive, but it wasn’t going to be enough. To close the gap, Essentium employed a hub and spoke distribution model, another advantage of its HSE technology that does not translate well to subtractive manufacturing. The Essentium HSE 3D Printing Platform has all linear servo motors and log files, allowing users to track quality on an ongoing basis to have a statistically relevant manufacturing capacity for consistent production across all printers at all locations.

The hub and spoke model uses a single location and a few regional plants to deliver burst capacity for mass production. In this case, the “hub” in Texas designed and iterated the final mask, then two “spokes” simultaneously printed volumes of identical masks in North Carolina and Wisconsin. A single operator controlled multiple HSE 3D Printers, and quality inspectors were able to inspect larger production lots at a time. Truckload shipping to local hospitals and first responder locations kept logistics costs low.

All told, Essentium shipped more than 71,000 reusable mask frames made with Essentium PA (thermoplastic nylon). The frames were designed for use with replaceable filtration media, which created more than 4 million mask equivalents. The ability to deliver burst capacity at scale from a single AM site or a few regional AM spokes allowed Essentium to meet its mask production goals despite numerous supply chain challenges.

But forging your own supply chain is just one part of the answer. Get the whole story on Essentium’s mask initiative in our white paper, Bridging the Hybrid Era of Additive Manufacturing, and contact us at Essentium.com to learn how the Essentium HSE 3D Printing Platform solves for quality management systems (QMS) and can insulate your factory while solving supply chain disruptions.

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