Digital Manufacturing or Agile Manufacturing?
It’s not only about 3D printing anymore, we are now a digital manufacturing service online! You’ve surely heard of the advent of the Industry 4.0. Well, now that we are combining two digital manufacturing techniques on the same platform: 3D printing and laser cutting, we can say, more than ever, that we are a part of it. When launching our new service, we took a moment to look at words: between agile manufacturing and digital manufacturing, AM or DM, which one would qualify us best? Discover, through our reflections, the difference between the two, the benefits of each and the possibility that one serves the other. So you can ask yourself, as we did: are you AM or DM?
When there is a new technology or process coming threw, its name takes some time to have one and unique denomination. Sometimes, you find the name before disclosing the technology. Sometimes, it happens and then you have to find a name. Let’s take as an example the ‘Silicon Valley’. It was clear something was happening in San Francisco Bay, about innovation, industries and computing. Then known as the ‘Valley of Heart’s Delight’, it became ‘Silicon Valley’ when a journalist suggested the name in the Electronic News. In the same time that ‘Silicon Valley’ had a name, ‘the world became aware of Silicon Valley.’ Our field is new, and the innovation it carries and is part of still has many names.
What is ‘Agile manufacturing’?
Agile manufacturing comes from coding vocabulary. It is a whole process based on an adaptation mode. Agile manufacturing is actually the ability for a company to adapt quickly to the customer’s demand, to the technology evolution and more generally, to react positively to the variation of the market. Taking advantage of the existing resources (tools, labor and raw material), the company can decide to change product in a few days. It is not the activity that is most important but the production. To be caricatural, if a company is producing socks, agile manufacturing enables this company to change its activity to hats if the fluctuation of the market suddenly favors hats.
Agile manufacturing implies fluid communication and collaboration between marketing, design and production departments. A robust data system provides up-to-date information on the resources available for use and redesign at any given time. (learn more here)
What is ‘Digital manufacturing’?
Very basically, digital manufacturing is an integrated approach to manufacturing that is centered around a computer system. A machine is able to read a CAD (computer aided design) file in order to deliver it in a few hours. Within the same process, it is possible to prototype, produce and fabricate molds to aid production. The rapidity of the process allows an iterative production. Let’s take the example of 3D printing to have it clear. Using the same technology, you can both prototype and produce. Within a few hours, your design becomes an object. It allows designers to easily and at a lowered cost revise the model after it has pass through the hands of engineers, marketers, consumers. In some way, we can say the product is able to continuously evolve and adapt, thanks to digital manufacturing, and hence meets consumer’s demand.
Digital manufacturing technologies include:
- additive manufacturing, often called 3D printing, consists in fabricating an object one layer after the other. It covers various technologies (SLS, Polyjet, FDM, DMLS…)
- laser cutting is a digital subtractive fabrication technique. It consists in cutting or engraving a material (like metal, wood, cardboard…) by means of laser. Discover our new laser cutting service online!
- water jet cutting is a manufacturing process that cuts material using a very high pressure jet of water that can be up to 6150 bars. Learn more!
- plasma cutting is a technology used to cut through conductive materials. It uses gas and electricity to cut through a different number of components, whether it is brass, copper, aluminum or steel. Learn more!
- CNC (Computer Numerical Control) is a subtractive manufacturing process where a computer controls the cutting and shaping of parts (typically, metal). Learn more!
Why is digital manufacturing often qualified as agile?
Thesaurus Dictionary sets the definition for agile as follow: ‘marked by an ability to think quickly; mentally acute or aware’. In this sense, we can say digital manufacturing is ‘agile’ as it allows a company to adapt quickly and rapidly answer to the changing demand of consumers.
Digital manufacturing eases iteration mode and constant adaptation.
Also, more and more people and papers use the word ‘agile’. It seems that it corresponds to a new and effective mode of development and production we should adopt to compose with our new environmental and economical context. For example, at the World Economic Forum, they talked about ‘agile development’, and also used the word ‘agile’ in article about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
But then, could we say digital manufacturing is the same as agile manufacturing?
Why are they different?
Agile manufacturing is the capacity to adapt to the market. A whole production line is able to change from one day to the other to produce a brand new product. Agile manufacturing is concentrated on efficiency of the production line and the capacity of compiling all the company resources to adaptation. This away, it will rather resist to a moving environment.
In comparison, digital manufacturing is a process, that allows to adapt to the market. It enables quick prototyping and furnishes close-to-reality testing. Production is then more efficient and more focused on the consumers’ needs. Thanks to digital manufacturing, it is possible to plan small productions and therefore work in real-time inventory monitoring. Digital manufacturing is not only about production, it incorporates the whole design and testing process, in low cost and short time.
However, digital manufacturing allows to strengthen agile manufacturing
As we saw while exploring the definitions and differences between agile manufacturing and digital manufacturing, they both have a similar impact on companies production: efficiency, iteration and adaptation. But in the same time, the first one is a whole production line organisation, while the other one is a production process, which allows to be adaptative. The first one is looking for adaptation and the other one is offering it!
Digital manufacturing can strengthen agile manufacturing. In fact, agile manufacturing is constantly trying to reach efficiency through adaptivity to the market. And digital manufacturing allows the company, through rapid prototyping and more generally quick production mode and small series to adapt to the consumers’ need.
Accenture and Dassault System are going in this way too, as they announced at this year’s Hannover Mess. They built a proof of concept (PoC) ‘to show how digital technologies can improve efficiency and create more agile manufacturing in industries such as heavy industrial equipment and aerospace’.
In conclusion, it’s interesting to make the difference between agile manufacturing and digital manufacturing, but it’s also interesting to see how both are intertwined. At Sculpteo, we are building the best online digital manufacturing service, combining several digital manufacturing techniques on one intuitive, convenient platform. We give our customers the tools and freedom to get the best out of digital manufacturing, and adapt to their needs and those of their customers… perhaps to head towards agile manufacturing. We like to think we’re on the edge, between digital and agile manufacturing, DM and AM… some might even say DAM (DAM IT!).