Robert Puschmann of DKSH and Mitchell Beness of HP speak about 3D printing, automation and Industry 4.0. Article by Stephen Las Marias.
Technology advancements have continuously been redefining design and manufacturing processes, production facilities, distribution systems, and global supply chains. As we move toward Industry 4.0, manufacturers recognise that current business models are no longer sustainable, and that the time has come for them to start adopting smarter manufacturing processes and solutions.
And oOne such technology is 3D printing. 3D printing is a ground-breaking and innovative technology that has the potential to bring intermediate changes in manufacturing, society, and business. As Considered a crucial medium connecting the virtual and actual world, 3D printing enables the transformation of ing the digital files into tangible objects.
According to market analyst firm Inkwood Research, the global 3D printing market is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17 percent from 2019 to 2027 and reach a value of US$ 44.39 billion at the end of the forecast period. While North America is the dominating region, Asia Pacific is the fastest growing market for 3D printing.
Mitchell Beness, Category Product Manager Lead for 3D Print and Digital Manufacturing, APJ at HP Inc., says the overall growth in terms of revenue for the industry has been positive, double-digit growth year-on-year, globally, for additive manufacturing or 3D printing.
“For us at HP, we see very exciting growth. If you look at the growth of the number of parts that we are producing, this is even significant. If you look at the growth of our installed base and powder usage, it is very positive,” he notes. “I think, overall, it is an encouraging story for the industry and for us. Since entering the market, we have seen a lot of people rethinking their decision to move into traditional manufacturing and looking very carefully at what digital manufacturing can offer. I think this change in mindset has been an upward trajectory.”
HP and its partner DKSH Singapore were at the recent Industrial Transformation ASIA PACIFIC (ITAP) 2019 event in Singapore to showcase the latest HP Jet Fusion 580 System, a 3D printer developed specifically for lower volumes as an entry point. The Jet Fusion 580 System is the first of its kind in using a functional material—an engineering grade Nylon polymer and nylon—which can incorporate colour within the printer. It is a good example of for an all-in-one machine, where it is printing, collecting powder, recycling powder, and redistributing powder, all in one very small unit.
Inkwood Research notes that 3D printing has achieved significant progress from the initial stages of production of simple plastic models to producing useful components, in the fields of surgical implants and prosthetics, batteries, robots, and among many others.
“I think the key area is prototyping, which goes throughout the different industries. We also need to differentiate between replacing and complementing the existing manufacturing process,” explains Robert Puschmann, Managing Director for DKSH Technology Business in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. “If you look at different industries, research is at the forefront.
Researchers are looking into how 3D printing can be adopted, which is a very crucial progress because that will help create a new generation of mechanical engineers who are able to design in a totally different way than before. This will be used in more industries over time.”
In the plastics industry in Southeast Asia, the major industries currently driving additive manufacturing are medical devices manufacturers and contract manufacturers. Jabil Inc. is one such contract manufacturer. The company is a member of HP’s Digital Manufacturing Network, a group of organisations that meet a certain quality level and scale of production using HP Multi Jet Fusion Technology.
“They have a fantastic facility with the ability to produce volume production of plastic parts using HP technology. In Southeast Asia, that is an exciting beacon for us, and any customer who is interested in using Multi Jet Fusion Technology can work with Jabil as a Digital Manufacturing Network partner in the region,” says Mr Beness.
3D printing or additive manufacturing offers a change in the traditional manufacturing processes, according to Mr Beness. But convincing manufacturers to adopt the technology requires changing their mindset.
“It is an area that Southeast Asia is uniquely positioned to take advantage of considering its relatively young engineers. There are a lot of younger people in these countries, who are able to get access to quality education better than ever before,” he says.
“Singapore is an excellent hub for education, and we see partnerships with dynamic clusters, such as Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Many of these types of educational institutions are fundamentally starting that design journey in the engineering space, with additive manufacturing in mind. I think the biggest challenge as well as the biggest opportunity is for people to change the way they design and engineer.”
Apart from the change in mindset, the business case also needs to be there so that people will understand more the benefits of integrating additive manufacturing in their processes.
“Overall, the return on investment (ROI) needs to be understood by the customer,” Mr Puschmann says. “That is something we continuously educate the market with. Also, having a different mindset and knowing to design parts for 3D printing compared to conventional manufacturing are other decisive factors.”
One way of educating the industry is through exhibitions such as ITAP. “The ITAP 2019 exhibition is an educational platform for a lot of people to know that 3D printing exists—I think that’s the first part,” says Mr Puschmann. “On top of that, we conduct test printings with our demo machines to show customers that 3D printing is possible. We also run specific seminars on selected industry focus groups.”
It is also a lot of on-site work, according to Mr Puschmann, where salespeople and applications specialists go from door to door and introduce the new technology and product directly to the customers.
One aspect of Industry 4.0 is the synergy between the physical and cyber-physical world. And 3D printing is in this unique place between the cyber-physical world—which is the data—and the physical world—the output of the 3D printer.
“3D printing takes the digital world and makes it physical,” says Mr Beness. “It has a very important and challenging role because it must address multitudes of data that are potentially for traditional manufacturing, and then try and make that into a physical product using additive technologies. I think that is the best way to describe industrial transformation. 3D printing takes digital files and turns them into physical objects. This is a critical part of Industry 4.0.”
Apart from this, 3D printing also enables distributed manufacturing. “You don’t need to produce all the parts and all the products at one place. Instead, you can distribute based on knowledge and available resources and bring them together,” explains Mr Puschmann. “It’s not only a transformation with regards to new technologies, but also the transformation of existing manufacturing processes and infrastructures themselves.”
Future of Automation
The outlook for Southeast Asia needs to be in the perspective of the different markets in the region, as each is in its different stage of development when it comes to automation. “You have Vietnam becoming a new manufacturing powerhouse probably over the next few years,” says Mr Puschmann. “Singapore is positioning itself very well in terms of industrial transformation and automation. In general, for automation to be implemented in Southeast Asia, I believe there needs to be a lot of education on the customer side as well as in universities so that there is more talent available in the market to drive the transformation.”
There is no way around it, according to Mr Puschmann, as the industrial transformation process is going to happen. “The question is more about which industries will be first. I believe the manufacturing sector is probably one of the more difficult ones for adoption. The transformation process might take place more in the logistics space and in food production first, before it moves on to manufacturing,” says Mr Puschmann. “Manufacturing is always unique—what is manufactured on the metal side on the one hand, and on the plastics side on another, always require different machines.”
And when it comes to automation, it can be a step-by-step process, or a transformation in one go.
“You can do it step by step, by looking at what you are manufacturing today and by potentially automating certain modules of your manufacturing process. Or, if you have the capability, the knowledge, the budget and the breadth to implement it, you can do it in one go—which bears a higher risk, of course, but also results in a faster return,” explains Mr Puschmann. “However, if you are a medium-sized company today and you are not looking into automation at all, you might risk not existing anymore in five years’ time.”
Mr Beness says, “Automation is part of a process. When we look at the way we have brought our products to market in the additive space, we are very focused on production. We are looking at volume 3D printing and for that to really scale, we need to consider how to automate at some point. Therefore, we, for example, incorporated an automated powder collection process in this product, which is slightly different to the previous model. We started to incorporate some of that automation, and we have reduced the amount of labour involved in collecting powder after our printing process. That is one example. However, there are many other areas where HP is very much focused on, like improving the throughput, the business case, and the scalability for the technology.”
Industry 4.0 is a very big word, which might scare a lot of people, according to Mr Puschmann. “To really achieve Industry 4.0, you must do much more than just automate. While the first step is getting into automation, how you get into it is through education, which means taking away the apprehension of the product and helping the customer with the application. There is also a need for support on having a common understanding with the customer and on taking away the general fear by underlining that automation is not about replacing, but about giving the opportunity to businesses to upskill their people and giving them more value-added opportunities and tasks. Once you have these companies interested in automation, the next step would be integrating the automation processes into their existing platforms,” he says.
“What is going to be interesting and important for us is tapping into different ecosystems of knowledge platforms and manufacturers and bringing this network effect to life. This ensures that the customer can really utilize all the different products and equipment and knowledge out there to get the best solution for them. Automation and Industry 4.0 are very complex, and I think one party alone would probably not be able to handle it. Leveraging that network effect is where DKSH can play an important role for our customers.”
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