When I started to think about a subject to my master thesis, I early decided to write about Lean, and came up with the following:
How can the industry make use of additive manufacturing (also called 3D printing) in the context of Lean?
3D printing has been around for a couple of decades, but it is not until recently this manufacturing technique has become interesting for the manufacturing industry. In the early stages of the technology, only plastic substances could be used. Nowadays there are a number of techniques used and metal objects can now be made with good quality.
The process of 3D printing is following:
- Drawings on what is to be made
- The drawings goes into a 3d CAD program
- The CAD program send a file to the 3D printer and the printer starts building the object layer by layer (therefore the name additive manufacturing)
- Finish part (the process can take from hours to days depending on the object)
Lean is a management methodology and are a way to be more effective. With the decline in the oil and gas industry, this methodology has become very popular recently and many of the largest companies in the region have adapted Lean. I will post a more detailed description on Lean later on. Lean emphasize low inventory and a quick respons time. With 3D printing this could be achieved at a much higher level than before.
You run a spare part shop for the oil and gas industry. A customer calls you and need a spare part, either you have the part in stock or you have to place an order. Either way this will represent a cost for you. Having an inventory with all the spare parts available at any time has a high cost since it binds up a capital. In addition you have to have storage place and people managing the storage location. If the spare part is urgent (which it often is) for the customer and you do not have it in stock, you are likely to loose a sale. If it is not urgent, there will be a cost with shipping and handling the part. If you have a 3D printer, the spare part could be printed in just hours – saving you a whole lot of money.
The last statement is what I am going to explore in my thesis. There are some constraints regarding 3D printing like the time it takes to make the part, the cost of the 3D printer and the robustness of the printed object. Hopefully will my thesis give an answer on these issues.