Nov 5, 2019

Additive Manufacturing’s Supply Chain Impact for PCB and Electronics Development

additive-manufacturing Anyone that has spent a significant amount of time working in the electronics industry knows that the components landscape can change in an instant. Large fabrication houses can easily buy out component stocks when new products need to be produced in an instant, and component manufacturers can have trouble keeping up with rapid changes in customer demand. Volatility in the supply chain has led to passive component shortages in recent years and has caused project managers to implement various contingency plans in order to cope with supply chain volatility.

Additive manufacturing has the potential to change the way manufacturers interact with the supply chain. This spans beyond the electronic components supply chain and includes maintenance of legacy manufacturing assets. Additive manufacturing’s supply chain impact can include printing important electronic and mechanical components on-demand, ultimately alleviating supply chain delays that can exhaust physical inventory.

For electronics manufacturers, the technology also has the potential to speed time to market to help the industry generate varied product designs, customized forms and features circuits, sensors, antennas, and other electronic parts to keep pace with ever-shortening product life cycles. 

Additive manufacturing’s supply chain impact for electronics

Rethink the electronics and mechanical components supply chain with additive manufacturing systems

Rethinking Supply Chain Management with Additive Manufacturing

The term “supply chain management” has become something of a buzz-word in the business community and spans everything from supplier relationship management (SRM) to inventory management. Manufacturers and product designers typically need to keep physical inventory with replacement components in order to keep manufacturing assets operating. 

Similarly, manufacturers and designers need to maintain relationships with component suppliers to ensure they can access the components they need for prototyping, repair of existing manufacturing assets, and fabrication/assembly of finished products.

New technology moves quickly and tends to advance faster than traditional manufacturing capabilities, leaving manufacturers scrambling to find replacement parts for their existing manufacturing assets. Inventory management and SRM are meaningless if replacement components for manufacturing assets are unavailable or carry extremely long lead times.

This is where using an additive manufacturing system can alleviate the problems involved with maintaining physical inventory and existing manufacturing assets. A manufacturer can use an additive system to print a replacement component (either electrical or mechanical, permanent, or temporary) for an existing manufacturing asset in the event replacements are not available. This helps reduce downtime and increase throughput.

Additive Manufacturing Enables Supply Chain Expansion

As the range of useful materials for additive systems continues to expand, manufacturers will have greater capabilities to support their existing legacy manufacturing assets. Mechanical pieces for use in manufacturing equipment and new products can already be produced with many 3D printers, providing parts with higher strength-to-weight ratios and reducing down time. 

The right additive manufacturing system can also quickly produce electronic components and fully-functional PCBs to support the manufacturing assets. Similarly, bringing these manufacturing assets in-house allow a manufacturer to produce mechanical components and fully-functional PCBs for use in new products in the event their physical inventory is exhausted.

These additive manufacturing assets do not need to act as replacements for traditional assets additive systems can fit within a standard manufacturing process, enabling production of new products with unique functionality. Both aspects of additive manufacturing will be enabled when manufacturers take a digital approach to on-demand production of mechanical and electronic components.

Digital Additive Manufacturing: The Supply Chain Impact

Additive manufacturing systems are inherently digitized, making them immediately adaptable to lights out digital manufacturing. While these systems are typically specialized for certain materials and deposition processes, they require no retooling and can be used to produce any component from a digital model. The fabrication time with these systems should be highly predictable, allowing manufacturers to provide on-demand manufacturing of mechanical and electronic components.

The ability to print directly from 3D models changes the inventory management dynamic for many manufacturers and even distributors. Rather than keeping a large quantity of physical inventory in stock, manufacturers will need to focus on maintaining an extensive digital inventory. This means holding digital models of various components in inventory and producing them on demand as they are needed. The benefit is the elimination of storage facilities and the expense of building the initial inventory.

Additive manufacturing’s supply chain impact for mechanical components

Additive manufacturing’s supply chain impact will cause manufacturers to hold digital inventory for on-demand production.

This does more than change the way in which manufacturers maintain their legacy assets. It also allows OEMs and electronic components suppliers to produce a small number of components for customers immediately upon receiving an order. This compensates volatility in the supply chain, especially for PCB designers. Passive conductive elements like antennas, sensing elements, and inductors or electromagnets can already be produced at scale with a 3D inkjet printing process.

Systems for producing mechanical components are already ubiquitous and are being used at scale within the aerospace and automotive industries. Greater availability in specialized materials and additive manufacturing systems will eventually facilitate on-demand fabrication of more specialized electronic components at scale, particularly semiconductor devices and integrated circuits. For PCB designers, additive systems allow on-demand production of fully-functional circuit boards as part of rapid prototyping or replacement of existing components.

Greater digitalization provides greater connectivity between new and legacy manufacturing assets, including additive manufacturing assets. The final link between additive processes and traditional manufacturing assets as part of digital manufacturing will be forged once IPC-CFX standards are implemented. Additive manufacturing’s supply chain impacts will change procurement by allowing disparate portions of a manufacturing process to work in tandem during on-demand production.

Additive manufacturing’s supply chain impact will continue to broaden as new systems come online and more processes are perfected. You can take advantage of these changes and produce electronic devices and components on-demand when you use the right digital manufacturing system. The DragonFly LDM system from Nano Dimension is ideal for on-demand fabrication of complex electronics with a planar or non-planar architecture, making these products ideal for use in existing manufacturing assets or new electronic products. Read a case study or contact us today to learn more about the DragonFly LDM system.

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