Winning When You’re Losing: Making Lemonade Out of (3D Printed) Lemons

| Blake Teipel


Material Selection Criteria for High Performance Applications

When it’s nearing the end of a game and victory is clearly out of reach, coaches often put their second and third stringers into the contest. Are they giving up? Not in the slightest. They’re using that valuable time to give less talented players exposure to in-game situations, a chance to feel part of the team, and to improve their skills so they’ll be ready when they’re really needed. (Some coaches do the same thing when they’re up by a lot, too). I call that winning when you’re losing, and it occurred to me that we can apply the same principles to business.

Life isn’t a game with fixed periods. Every dawn does not mean we start the day with a 0-0 score; in fact some days we wake up already in the hole. Like during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can’t make products when supply chains have fallen apart or specialized workers are out sick. But we can learn from our experiences and mistakes made during trying times such as these, to help us be better prepared and come out stronger — either for the next time there’s a disaster to mitigate, or generally during the upside of the cycle which is inevitably coming (someday). Here are a few thoughts:

  • Ask yourself, which process fell apart first? Did that have a domino effect on other aspects of production? Which ones? How do we insulate ourselves to prevent this from happening again?
  • Just-in-time inventory is a neat concept for companies that have their supply chain management down to a science (and can push inventories out to their supply base). It’s a great way to minimize warehousing expenses and free up capital. But it looks increasingly as though many cost models were over-optimized and, moving forward, it might well be worth the investment to keep a contingency inventory of key raw materials or replacement parts on hand in the event of a disruption.
  • Cross-train employees in complementary skill sets to increase staff versatility and human resource back-up. Human Capital is one of the most important sources of flexible capital at all times, but especially on the downslope and bumpy bottom of the cycle. This is a true win-win as it makes the employee more valuable and allows production to continue in case your starters are unavailable.
  • Invent alternate ways to make the same product. That may mean using different materials, substituting manual for automated processes or vice-versa, partnering with a new supplier, or having a temporary Band-aid fix at the ready until a permanent replacement part can be found.

Now, that last one may sound like it’s a little out of left field. But Essentium is a 3D printing company, so from my perspective, it makes perfect sense. There may only be one right way to make your company’s product, be it a shoe, an airplane or a frozen pizza. But there may be alternative ways to make the things that are used to make the shoes, airplanes and frozen pizzas. 3D printing can provide the flexibility to do things in different ways with new materials that you might not have previously considered.

Having an industrial 3D printer on the factory floor can help your company be more self-sufficient and self-reliant. Print the spare parts that may be temporarily unavailable. Use lightweight carbon-fiber reinforced filaments instead of heavy aluminum molds to create the tools needed to keep production lines moving. Or build a fixture that will allow a manual process to have the same accuracy as a robotic assembly line in case your automation goes down. Don’t allow your business to be at the mercy of a distant supplier. Don’t just try to ride out the rough times in survival mode — instead, use the time to prepare for your next winning streak. 3D printing can help you create tools and parts you are unable to source, so your second- and third-stringers can step in to keep making lemonade, even when you’re out of real lemons.

Essentium, Inc. provides industrial 3D printing solutions that are disrupting traditional manufacturing processes by bringing product strength and production speed together, at scale, with an open ecosystem and material set. Essentium manufactures and delivers innovative industrial 3D printers and materials enabling the world’s top manufacturers to bridge the gap between 3D printing and machining to embrace the future of additive manufacturing.


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