Xerox tackles complexity and fragility of supply chain with metal 3D printing
The supply chain disruptions of 2020 have been a wake-up call for manufacturing. With border closures, shipping delays, and closed facilities, new ways to meet critical needs have emerged. Some of these interim measures were a temporary band-aid for a quick economy, but others will have more resistance, especially for notoriously complex supply chains. Additive manufacturing (AM / 3D printing) has been on the rise for years as a manufacturing solution – and the pandemic has served a lot to take a second first look at 3D printing.
Among the companies seeking to effect a lasting change in the shape of supply chains through additive manufacturing are Photocopy
Xerox 3D printing
Last week, Xerox officially introduced its ElemX metal 3D printer along with its first installation and collaboration partner. A conversation with Tali Rosman, Xerox vice president and general manager of 3D printing, offers more insight into what this technology has to offer and how a collaboration is set up to reshape business chains. complex military supplies.
Rosman first entered the 3D printing industry seven years ago, drawn to some of the benefits of the technology. “I looked at why people use 3D printing, for example by allowing low volume production and design freedoms; for me, however, much of the print run was direct manufacturing. You don’t need the tooling and the mold, you can fabricate the part when you need it without all of that setup, to oversimplify. For me, ”she said,“ this has always led to aftermarket parts and the supply chain. “
The dots Rosman connected seven years ago are now coming together in more tangible ways as adoption increases. Whether as a default or a fallback in manufacturing, 3D printing provides a sense of continuity for operations. “Often times it still makes sense to make a part with metal casting, but now when there is a global pandemic, a business issue, or a supplier limit for whatever reason, knowing that you have that alternate option to get the part, it just makes sense for me to use 3D printing for that, ”she noted. Drawing on his background in software, where “everyone has a plan with backup servers,” Rosman sees 3D printing as a means of physical backups against a fragile supply chain structure.
This perception informs her leadership at Xerox, where the team ensures that the 3D printing solutions they create have real value. Before courting market opportunities, internal engineering teams “ate their own dog food” to develop internal use cases. A stand for a 15-year-old digital press needed to be replaced, but the original supplier had ceased production of the low-volume part. Concerned with ensuring the continued operation of the high-end 2D printing press, the Xerox team found sufficient motivation to develop a creative solution for the required spare part.
The part more than proved the ElemX: 3D printed in four hours, the new media saved Xerox 21% in cost and 43% in CO2 emissions compared to traditional metal smelting. The support had been created for 15 years by metal casting, so it was the benchmark. But to prove the courage of the new metal 3D printing system, the team also compared it to competing powder bed fusion 3D printing technology. Compared to this process, the ElemX system support was 38% cheaper and produced at a 40% reduced cycle time. Xerox is currently reviewing other parts for potential production on its 3D printer, again a strategy that is quickly becoming familiar with 2D printing companies entering 3D printing.
Beyond Xerox, the ElemX is intended to meet a similar demand for parts needed in industries “where the lack of spare parts is very painful, where to shorten that time from a few weeks to a few days or even a few hours. , is very valuable, ”says Rosman. The team targets its use in the aerospace and defense, automotive, heavy machinery, and oil and gas sectors. These are all areas that use and replace metal parts, typically from complex supply chains. And few supply chains are as complex as those found in the military.
Xerox and the Naval College
Xerox announced a Collaborative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). To kick off the relationship, NPS received the first ElemX client installation in December.
As metal 3D printing grows rapidly case studies Highlighting its capabilities here and now, many of the most impactful use cases are still years in the future. But they are coming. Rosman noted that in discussing the possibilities with NPS, the two entities “were using similar language to talk about vision. And that’s a vision; it will be a few years before we see 3d printers on ships for inventory. We needed a forward-thinking partner, like NPS, who could share both the vision and the work required to make it happen.
“Our mission in Xerox 3D printing is to build resilience and flexibility in the supply chain. The military and navy in particular have one of the most complex and critical supply chains available, ”she added. “If we can help them, it gives us great confidence in our ability to work with other clients as well. This approach aligns with a common approach to additive manufacturing, where critical applications in the aerospace, defense and medical industries tend to be established first, fully vetted and qualified, before settling. pass on to less critical industries.
The familiarity between Xerox and the Navy also provided a solid ground for starting this new job. There are already 2D printers from Xerox installed on US Navy ships, for example. “While 2D and 3D are very, very different, there are a lot of lessons we can apply from the vibration and quality needs of these facilities,” Rosman added. Identifying the steps leading to the installation of an industrial metal 3D printer on board a ship is essential to add this immediate access to spare parts. Rather than having to potentially wait weeks for vital components until the next port, sailors could load a 3D part file and produce exactly what they need in a way that has already been qualified for use in the exact geometry and material, on the exact machine, they have at sea.
The US military experimented with this idea by deploying 3D printers in the field. Relatively immediate access to spare parts could save a mission – could save soldiers’ lives. Using this strategy across the military could lead to significant improvements in mission success rates, while reducing reliance on complex and fragile traditional supply chains.
Looking to the future with Xerox 3D printing
Rosman and his team remain anchored in their high hopes for the future of additive manufacturing. Putting all the pieces in place – from in-house jet physics expertise drawn from decades of 2D printing leadership to the innovation hub of the company’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and its software powering the ElemX to Vader technology to deal with quality and reliability – has already been quite a business. And, as they envision ambitious applications that could streamline some of the most complex supply chains, Xerox is also well aware of the scale of the impact of additive manufacturing.
“Today, 3D printing is perhaps 0.1-0.2% of the global manufacturing pie,” Rosman explained. “It can be as high as 5%, maybe even 10%, which is 100 times the size of the market today. But even if it’s 10%, it still means 90% of the market is not 3D printing. We must therefore integrate into existing workflows, and not the other way around. We need to understand other companies and how their supply chains are run, how their supply chain managers view supplies, costs and timing. “
The corporate use of additive manufacturing has been “extremely helpful” for the Xerox team in understanding and navigating the intricacies of their own company’s supply chain, as well as understanding the real potential impact. While, for example, the digital press rack is a stunning testament to the power of a redesigned part, it is just one part in a complicated piece of industrial machinery. Such applications illustrate that “3D printing is ready for prime time,” as Rosman puts it, “and we appreciate the need to integrate into existing workflows and need to have a clear strategy to achieve this.”
As always, 3D printing is a tool. It’s not always the right tool for the job – but when it is, it could be of huge importance to recognize and embrace it. Finding the right applications where the benefits of 3D printing make sense is a tricky part of establishing it as a must-have in the toolbox.