With all the buzz about these new design tools, there is still quite a bit of ground left to be covered in ensuring these next-generation designs are actually manufacturable. That is where we can really shine.

Industry 4.0 Strategy and Design for Additive Manufacturing
Industry 4.0 Strategy and Design for Additive Manufacturing

Cullen Hilkene | Q&A with 3Diligent

Tell us about 3Diligent and your role with the company.

3Diligent is a digital manufacturing services company.  We offer both custom part manufacturing and consulting services.  We’ve built a manufacturing service and software platform that provides businesses looking to manufacture things with a seamless portal in which to procure them.  Engineers, procurement agents, and inventors simply upload a computer-aided design (CAD) file and the details of their manufacturing request for quote (RFQ), and 3Diligent uses algorithms and our team to assess the RFQ, identify the right manufacturing process, price the job, and (if that bid is accepted) fulfill orders with a global network of connected third party digital manufacturing centers.  These manufacturing centers are equipped with 3D Printers, CNC machines, and other technologies driven by CAD files. Additionally, our consulting practice focuses on Industry 4.0 strategy development and Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM).  As CEO and co-founder of the company, I oversee the operations of our manufacturing service and our consulting practice in support of our customers.


What types of companies typically work with 3Diligent?

We've been struck by the remarkable variety of companies that we have the pleasure of working with. We have supported customers from industries including automotive, industrial products, aerospace, medical, architecture, energy, design, and research institutions and universities. Disproportionately, we support small and medium businesses that I like to think of us as an outsourced procurement arm for their R&D and operations needs. That being said, we support a number of Fortune 500 companies as well.


What are some offerings you provide that customers might not know about?

I think that our manufacturing service and the tremendous breadth of materials and machines we offer is pretty well publicized.  What customers may not know is our emphasis on quality and the fact that many of our facilities have quality certifications like ISO 9001, ISO13485, and AS9100. That allows us to tackle some heavier duty production work.  Our customers also might not know about our global footprint or our consulting service, but I expect we’ll be tackling those later in the interview.


You now have manufacturing facilities on six continents and 1,200 machines – what does this mean for 3Diligent and its customers?

This is a big deal for a couple reasons. The first is obviously that we are able to truly deliver one-stop shopping and the best possible value to our customers. Certain parts of the planet have deeper capability in particular machines and materials, and we are able to draw on the right solutions for the particular application every time.  Hand in hand with that is the extent that companies have customers or operations everywhere, we are able to serve as a single partner in support of those global operations. It can be a very useful benefit when you think about streamlining on-demand inventory or scaling production because we have so many machines and such a great geographical footprint, we can really scale elastically to support the needs of our customers.   


Tell us about your new Industry 4.0 Consulting Services Focused on Strategic and Design Advisory for Additive Manufacturing.

We have a very unique perspective on digital manufacturing and Industry 4.0 given that we have lived through the build-out of a global digital manufacturing network these past several years.  There are invaluable insights that come from delivering programs across a digital network.  As a result of that, and my previous background with Deloitte strategy and operations consulting, we are uniquely positioned to advise companies both on their digital manufacturing strategy and also provide them design for additive manufacturing services such as topological optimization and generative design.  With all the buzz about these new design tools, there is still quite a bit of ground left to be covered in ensuring these next-generation designs are actually manufacturable. That is where we can really shine.


What are some common missteps a manufacturer might have when implementing Additive Manufacturing?

The one we see most commonly is companies looking to make big investments in machinery before they really understand what different processes are capable of or what the total cost of ownership is. 3D printing is a catch-all term, but it is far from a single flavor. There are literally dozens of different ways that parts are printed and each of these processes have unique capabilities and drawbacks that should be considered. Going one level deeper, particular manufacturers and their specific product lines can sometimes have unique material and processing options relative to their peer sets.  One of the biggest mistakes you can make is jumping right in with a big expensive machine without getting some parts made on both that platform and competing platforms to see if the reality matches up to the promise. The second is that if you derive a high degree of satisfaction from a given part platform, do you understand the total cost of bringing it into your organization. It's one thing to buy the machine - it's another to buy the related materials for both successful and failed builds, develop or hire the in-house talent to execute builds, and lastly the downtime whenever a machine needs a replacement part and the related cost of maintenance contracts. All of that can add up. We have a number of customers that do quite a bit of 3D Printing, but they recognized for their purposes bringing operations in-house just doesn't make sense given the rate of obsolescence and related costs. For others, it 100% makes sense.  


Why do you feel proper strategy and design like that provided by a consultant can help avoid some of these missteps?

The missteps I presented above are really business missteps, but design missteps can also set back a company’s progress quite a bit. The most common one is not designing with a particular process in mind. Overwhelmingly, designers were raised in a world of machining and molding. There are a bundle of design rules that inform how to create a part with those processes in mind. There are so many different 3D Printing processes that it can save you a ton of time, effort, and money if you know which process, or better yet which combination of machine and material, is going to be able to deliver your desired final output. Understanding this allows for you to properly account for design features, tolerances, risk knockdowns for given materials, etc.


What industries are you seeing the greatest growth in use of additive manufacturing now? Are there any industries that you think have great potential for using additive manufacturing but aren’t yet maximizing it?

We've been pleasantly surprised to see how across the board adoption has become. I do think that the architecture and construction industry is just now starting to realize some of the potential for additive manufacturing. Historically, it has been an industry where the sheer size of the projects limited 3D Printing to only providing models and not practical parts. But as we demonstrated with Walters & Wolf and the Rainier Square Tower project, 3D Printing can open the door to really remarkable geometries that can help define a next-generation space. And a lot is now happening with the actual 3D Printing of complete structures, not just components. I also think that consumer, automotive, energy, and industrial products are areas where the economics are just now becoming very attractive for additive manufacturing adoption. The medical and aerospace industries led the way because they have such high value parts and the capabilities of 3D Printing to deliver next-generation geometries sets it apart. Now that the machines and materials are becoming more cost-effective, those other industries are about to have their day in the sun.



The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of ManufacturingTomorrow

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