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Digital manufacturing could eliminate warehouses, create on-demand production

Lucas Mearian | May 18, 2016
As digital manufacturing grows, so do cyber threats to online data.

Dean Bartels, chief manufacturing officer at the Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), believes an issue facing 3D printing adoption is the lack of education for engineers and designers.

DMDII is a federally-funded research and development organization of UI LABS that focuses on helping manufacturers deploy digital technology to improve processes. DMDII was the first organization created through the Revitalize American Manufacturing Innovation (RAMI) Act of 2014.

hp 3d printing lab w people 
HP is already working with nearly a dozen companies who are testing the company's  Jet Fusion printing technology in its labs. The companies include Nike, BMW, Johnson & Johnson, Jabil, Siemens, Materialise, Shapeways, Autodesk, and Protolabs. Credit: HP

Bartels sees several emerging trends connected to digital manufacturing, including the use of advanced analytics to determine whether a product or part can be more efficiently produced with additive manufacturing (3D printing) or through conventional methods.

"How strong has it to be? How light has it to be? How cost effective does it have to be so when you're a designer trying to decide the best way to make the product, he can decide those things," Bartels said. "It's an emerging area. I don't think anyone has a firm answer now on how to do it right now."

Additionally, intelligent machining, where every machine tool is connected via the Internet, could someday enable data to be streamed to analytics engines in the cloud to determine more efficient ways of manufacturing products.

For example, General Electric tracks the engines it makes not only on the production line, but also as they're in use by customers to measure ongoing performance -- data that can be used to boost quality, Bartels said.

Stephen Nigro, president of HP 3D printing, said the cloud will be critical to advancing 3D printing technologies since no single company will be able to come up with all the answers. Inter-industry collaboration will be necessary.

HP today began taking reservations for its new HP Jet Fusion printer line, which it said will rival traditional manufacturing by enabling product runs of greater than 50,000 parts for half the cost of other 3D printing methods and 10 times faster.

HP's Jet Fusion printers are also expected to print electronics in parts that will transmit data about their performance as well as unique identifiers that will enable parts to be tracked, Nigro said.

Jet Fusion 3D printer 
An HP employee holds a part to an inkjet printer that was printed using HP's new Jet Fusion 3D printer. The Jet Fusion 3D printer also prints close to 50% of its own parts. Credit: Lucas Mearian


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