Maximizing Uptime in an Uncertain Era: How to Add Flexibility to the JIT Model for Supply Chain Resilience

Published on : 10 July, 2023

By embracing additive manufacturing, manufacturers can overcome the limitations of traditional supply chain management and ensure operational continuity. The ability to produce high-performance replacement parts, tooling, fixtures, and other essential components on-demand and at the point of need enhances flexibility and reduces dependence on external suppliers. This shift towards additive manufacturing empowers manufacturers to navigate the challenges of today's volatile business landscape, mitigate disruptions, and maintain a resilient and efficient supply chain. Read the full article to discover how additive manufacturing is revolutionizing supply chain resilience in an era of uncertainty.

The supply chain status quo: getting parts 'just-in-time'

Since the 1970s, the concept of just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing has gained global trust for its efficiency. This approach minimizes excess inventory by producing only what is needed to meet customer demand. Manufacturers have widely adopted JIT, ordering materials and components precisely when required. However, prior to 2020, disruptions were generally more predictable and manageable in scale, allowing traditional risk management frameworks to provide sufficient mitigation strategies.

Today's supply chain landscape: can you plan for it?

The supply chain landscape today presents unique challenges that defy traditional planning methods. Manufacturers have historically relied on risk mitigation plans, but the complexity and unpredictability of disruptions make it difficult to accurately track, predict, and plan for large-scale geopolitical shifts that are beyond their control. The interconnected nature of supply chains magnifies the impact of disruptive events, leading to cascading effects and failures across multiple chains.

The just-in-time (JIT) supply chain model, with its lean inventories and precise coordination, is particularly susceptible to these disruptions. When disturbances occur, solutions are not as simple as implementing contingency plans. Without large stockpiles of inventory or flexible production capabilities at the point of need, prolonged downtime and delays in obtaining critical replacement parts can halt entire production lines. The need for adaptable strategies and resilient supply chain models is paramount in the face of uncertainty.

Building supply chain resilience today: production at the point of need adds greater flexibility

Building supply chain resilience requires manufacturers to adopt an agile and flexible approach. Constantly re-evaluating supply networks is not a viable long-term strategy due to the frequency of disruptions. Instead, organizations are leveraging additive manufacturing, such as industrial 3D printing, to enhance their operations. With 3D printing, production-grade parts can be quickly printed on-site, reducing downtime and eliminating the need for extensive physical inventory.

The transformative value of additive manufacturing in supply chain management is increasingly recognized, as initiatives like AM Forward highlight. By embracing 3D printing technology, manufacturers gain the ability to rapidly produce critical components, tooling, fixtures, and other necessary parts directly on their factory floors. This flexibility allows them to respond swiftly to challenges without enduring prolonged lead times or relying on external suppliers.

With today's unstable supply chains marked by high levels of risk and uncertainty, the capability to design and print solutions as needed grants factory floors greater autonomy and control. Rather than waiting weeks or months for a critical part to arrive, manufacturers can quickly address disruptions by leveraging the power of additive manufacturing. This approach empowers them to maintain continuous operations and minimize the impact of supply chain disruptions.

How additive manufacturing builds supply chain resilience

Additive manufacturing, specifically industrial 3D printing, contributes to supply chain resilience through the following ways:

  • Reduced supplier dependency:
    Manufacturers can produce parts in-house, reducing reliance on external suppliers and enabling quick response during supply chain disruptions.
  • On-demand production:
    3D printing enables manufacturers to produce items as needed, eliminating the need for large inventories and minimizing the risk of excess stock.
  • Digital inventory:
    Parts can be stored as digital design files in the cloud, allowing for rapid production whenever required, ensuring flexibility and responsiveness.
  • Localization of production:
    3D printing facilitates the establishment of production facilities closer to customers, reducing transportation costs, lead times, and the impact of long-distance shipping disruptions.
  • Spare parts availability:
    Manufacturers can overcome challenges related to spare parts availability by producing required parts on-demand using 3D printing, minimizing factory floor downtime.
  • Distributed manufacturing networks:
    3D printing enables the creation of networks where multiple facilities collaborate and share production capacities, ensuring continuity in the face of disruptions.

By leveraging additive manufacturing technologies, manufacturers enhance their ability to adapt to changing circumstances, maintain production uptime, and mitigate the impact of supply chain disruptions.

The Digital Forge: engineered for maximizing the value of supply chains

The Digital Forge by Markforged is designed to maximize the value of supply chains in today's uncertain environment. With their powerful 3D printers and software tools, manufacturers can enhance their supply chain operations.

Markforged 3D printers are capable of producing composite parts with the strength of aluminum, making them suitable for various industrial applications. The patented continuous fiber reinforcement (CFR) technology ensures the exceptional strength and performance of Markforged parts, enabling the fast, simple, and cost-effective production of robust tooling, fixtures, and customized components.

For metal parts, the Metal X system offers a straightforward and accessible solution for fabricating low-volume pieces. To cater to higher production volumes, Markforged provides the FX20 large-format printer for large composite parts and the PX100 metal binder jetting system for precise components in high volumes.

By leveraging the capabilities of the Digital Forge, manufacturers can optimize their supply chain value and meet the demands of today's dynamic business landscape.

Cashco Inc. uses Markforged composite 3D printers to print custom tooling for the factory floor. This brought the time to manufacture tooling down by 70% — while reducing the need for metal tooling work by 90%, offloading internal machinist bandwidth for revenue-generating parts.

Vestas, a global leader in wind energy, stores over 2000 parts as cloud-based digital inventory through Markforged Eiger software. Employees at any Vestas location can quickly search for and 3D print any up-to-spec parts for qualified applications. With its distributed manufacturing model, Vestas can get parts on a moment's notice anywhere in the world, in just hours.

KST Moschkau turned to additive on the Digital Forge when low-quantity orders for Aluminum components became expensive and often created delays with long lead times. 3D printing prototypes and final production parts for a security camera mount cut lead times down from 3-4 weeks down to just 2 days; with production costs just ⅙ of what they previously were.

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