“Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.” - Thomas Edison
I have had the privilege of working with various part manufacturers over the years. Whether they specialize in mobility, machinery, or medical, I often hear from sales representatives, procurement staff, and application engineers: "Feasibility checks and cost analysis take an eternity!". I can relate to that, having experienced it firsthand while serving as an application engineer at a leading metal 3D printer manufacturer. Feasibility (printability) checks, cost calculations, and business case analyses were central to my role.
So, why are these tasks crucial for a manufacturing business, and how can they be done more efficiently?
Feasibility (manufacturability, printability) checks are essentially the technical evaluation of manufacturing options for specific parts. Questions we often ask include:
Once we clear the feasibility stage, it is time for cost analysis. This is where every manufacturing-related expense comes under the scanner. Factors include:
Whether these are fixed costs, machine-time costs, or labour-time costs, they are crucial for an accurate assessment.
Business case analysis is a more holistic approach for the question: Should a business invest in a certain Manufacturing machine or system? I will discuss this in a future article.
Coming back to feasibility and cost analysis: I was working on a client request to analyse a test part and find out the best production option. The requirements were:
I immediately thought about how much time this task would take for an application engineer, technical sales rep or a procurement specialist if done manually. How much time would be wasted on mundane tasks instead of innovating or generating revenue, and how long the lead-time would delay. I wanted to use this occasion to compare three analysis approaches in terms of time: manual, semi-automatic and automatic (3D Spark).
We are talking about considering hundreds of unique production options (lot size, machine, material, orientation, nesting) so I am sure no one would try running this analysis manually. But even doing it semi-automatically by other software tools would take considerable time. On the contrary, a dedicated software tool such as 3D Spark can do the same task much faster. To put numbers to the efficiency we are talking about:
Manual analysis, if possible, at all, would take a ½ to 1 day.
Semi-automatic (by using multiple software tools) analysis would take 2-3 hours.
Analysis with the right manufacturing and procurement software such as 3D Spark? Less than 10 minutes.
To paint you a clearer picture, I took an impeller to analyse with 3D Spark. The following were compared:
The following were compared considering the machine park of the client:
The analysis with 3D Spark concluded in a mere 5 minutes. I have spent a few more minutes on charting out the graphs.
I will keep it simple for this analysis: Lot size, material, and technology all affect the cost per part. In my test, not surprisingly, FDM with a cost-efficient material like ABS was a front runner for prototypes or smaller batches. But for larger volumes, SLS would be a better choice considering the lower costs and the durability of PA12. The other powder-based technology looks competitive as well.
In this case, feasibility and cost analysis for part manufacturing was reduced significantly by using the right tool, which automated repetitive tasks.
Comparing multiple materials, machines, and technologies manually in terms of feasibility and costs takes too much time and valuable resources. The overhead can even diminish the intended cost savings. Making decisions in sales, manufacturing and procurement of parts should not be that difficult and expensive. This is why we have developed 3D Spark: to make the tedious effortless. A few clicks and you are ready to make informed, cost-effective decisions.