Amid uncertainties and disruptions, manufacturers are innovating their production processes with new technologies – including 3D printing. 3D printing delivers a host of benefits, from reduced waste to faster time to market. However, the full extent of these benefits can only be realised if the right systems and functionalities are in place.

If you have already embraced 3D printing or plan to in the future, the question begs: how well does your ERP system integrate 3D printing? Is it enhancing your 3D printing capabilities? Sharpening your competitive advantage? Or is it hindering your success and limiting your return on investment?

In this article, we’ll explore 3D printing, its benefits, and its uses before discussing the synergy between this revolutionary manufacturing technique and ERP software.

What is 3D printing? What are the benefits?

3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – is a precise and efficient process of constructing three-dimensional objects using a design saved in a digital file.

The object is ‘printed’ through an additive process, where layers of raw material are applied in succession until the design is complete. This method is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, where a machine cuts objects out of a piece of material.

The benefits of 3D printing are far-reaching. It empowers organisations to produce complex and multifaceted objects with extreme accuracy while using fewer materials. With fewer materials needed, manufacturers save on production costs and require less storage capacity. In addition, lower up-front costs help manufacturers reduce risk.

Traditional manufacturing methods generate leftover materials that must be reused or disposed of. In contrast, the 3D printing process doesn’t, therefore minimising overall waste. Plus, the razor-sharp precision a 3D printer can achieve removes restrictions hampering design and innovation, empowering teams to actualise their most ground-breaking ideas.

Finally, the versatility of the 3D printing process allows new designs to be prototyped and manufactured quickly, which means companies can bring new products to market faster.

How is 3D printing used?

3D printing is an umbrella term that refers to many different technologies and materials. The potential is almost unlimited, and for this reason, it has been adopted by a diverse cross-section of industries, including:

  • Consumer goods: furniture, eyewear, and footwear
  • Industrial: prototypes, parts, and manufacturing tools
  • Medical: dental products and prosthetics

Looking forward, the aerospace and automotive industries will likely become key markets for 3D printing manufacturers:

  • Aerospace companies are using 3D printing to create hardware. NASA, for example, uses 3D printing to manufacture rocket engines and satellites. Boeing uses industrial 3D printing to build the interiors of its planes.
  • Introducing rapid tooling paired with 3D printing is a primary objective for many automotive brands chasing faster time to market, lower production costs, and reduced waste. 3D printing might also pave the way for customised vehicle interiors.

COVID-19, supply chain issues, and 3D printing

The pandemic disrupted global supply chains, the ricocheting effects of which are still being felt now. National lockdowns slowed – and in some cases halted – accessibility to both raw materials and finished products. The labour shortages that followed only added fuel to the fire, and many organisations were forced to review their operational models and explore the potential of new technologies. Enter: 3D printing.

In-house 3D printing empowered manufacturers to produce the parts they needed to continue production and generate prototypes, thereby reducing overall reliance on the global supply chain without compromising production schedules. Other pre-existing manufacturing trends bolstered the accelerated adoption of 3D printing, including increasing digitisation, smart factories, machine learning, and robotics.

The 3D printing market has not yet reached its full potential. Forecasts suggest the global 3D printing industry to grow from AU$25.5 billion in 2022 to AU$116.8 billion in 2029.

ERP software and the adoption of 3D printing 

ERP software, designed specifically for the manufacturing industry, allows businesses to manage EVERY part of their day-to-day operations in real-time. ERP solutions are data-centric, giving users access to the intelligent insights and reports needed to mitigate risk, capitalise on opportunities, and make informed decisions.

ERP for manufacturers can help in the following areas:

  • Achieving DIFOTQ targets (delivery in full, on time, and to correct quality standards)
  • Grasping the true cost of each job, including materials, capital, and, labour
  • Increasing visibility across the business, from the top floor to the shop floor
  • Improving supply chain management by consolidating systems, enabling real-time data access, and creating a single source of truth
  • Achieving growth with quality analytics and accurate forecasting that empower data-backed decision-making

Where does 3D printing fit into ERP software?

For businesses looking to leverage 3D printing as a competitive advantage, it’s integral their ERP system not only accommodates additive manufacturing but also enhances it. This might mean reconfiguring their existing software solution or implementing an all-new ERP.

Here are some of the ways ERP for 3D printing benefits manufacturers:

Faster production of parts

Additive manufacturing empowers companies to design and build parts that may be too difficult or costly to manufacture using traditional methods. However, to maximise the benefit, production must be fast and efficient. That’s where demand-driven materials requirements planning (DDMRP) comes into play.

DDMRP is an adaptive approach to material control that, unlike conventional MRP, is driven by ebbs and flows in supply and demand. By adopting DDMRP in their ERP, manufacturers can use 3D printing to become more resilient to supply chain issues, shortages, and other production disruptions – all while reducing bottlenecks.

Enhanced prototyping capabilities 

3D printed proofs of concept give innovators a tangible, cost-efficient model they can use to test their ideas and secure leadership buy-in. ERP-enabled 3D printing allows teams to produce more sophisticated, higher-tech prototypes using several CAD models and other inputs. From there, they can evaluate the effects of certain variables and refine their approach to manufacturing the final product. Pair these advantages with the advanced analytical tools offered by ERP, and manufacturers are empowered to make lower-risk data-backed decisions about new products and features.

Meeting service needs

The quality of 3D printed products depends on the machine’s calibration, speed, and nozzle size. Many manufacturers, therefore, leverage annual service contracts, gaining access to specialised vendors’ expertise to ensure their machine is functioning properly. In this context, ERP software plays a critical role. It delivers visibility over the 3D printing process, supports a maintenance program, and proactively monitors deliverables as outlined in the service contract. Together, these ERP capabilities ensure that 3D printers are operational and produce the highest quality products.

What’s next for ERP-powered 3D printing? 

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Between process automation and advanced data analytics, more and more manufacturers will innovate their operations, driving efficiencies, growth, and resilience.

If you are already using 3D printing in your manufacturing process or are planning to introduce it soon, now’s the time to review your ERP.

Does your current ERP software offer you the insights necessary to scale and grow your business as 3D printing increases in popularity and use?

Contact us today to discuss your current and future needs.