INDUSTRY ANALYSIS: The pros and cons of 3d printing
Additive manufacturing – the official term for 3D printing - has been used by the automotive and aerospace industries to build prototypes for some time now. But over the last few years, 3D print technologies have evolved more rapidly. Nike recently launched the first athletic shoe including 3D-printed components, and fashion designers, architects, artists, and food technicians are experimenting with it. The technology’s potential seems almost boundless.
3D print technology makes it possible to create nearly any geometric form with the help of design software – e.g. incorporating hollow spaces and filigree honeycomb structures that are much lighter than traditionally manufactured components but offer the same stability. In medical technology, 3D printing has already achieved standards on a par with traditional manufacturing methods. Dental crowns, hip joint prosthetics, and customised hearing aid shells: 3D printing is used wherever “replacement parts” for the body are needed.
Manufacturers from all industry sectors are exploring which items they may be able to produce using 3D print technology, and logistics service providers are launching pilot projects to identify the need, potential and options for adjusting their business models to include 3D print services. Components manufactured with 3D printing offer the same safety and stability as the traditionally manufactured components they replace, but at a fraction of the weight. Integrating such components into finished aircraft for example helps save fuel and reduces CO2 emissions.
3D printing enables decentralisation, saving transport costs and driving down overall logistics expenses.
It is also useful for small production batches or limited mass production, and for creating the required moulds for this type of manufacturing. In the future we may store replacement parts in virtual warehouses rather than distribution centres and print them based on demand, which would significantly reduce required storage space and resources. This may also provide the foundation for high-wage countries to “near shore” production back home following earlier outsourcing to low-wage countries and saving customs duties based on electronic transmission of digital design plans for local production rather than importing the actual goods.
But the greatest opportunities for additive manufacturing are in replacement parts. Companies have an obligation to supply replacement parts to their customers, even many years after the sale. Storing these replacement parts ties up large areas of storage, which costs money. Many replacement parts may no longer be usable after such long periods of storage, so they have to be disposed. Older replacement parts can no longer be used in new product versions when equipment is upgraded and new functionalities are added. 3D printing offers the solution to all these problems. It is possible to save a good deal of storage space if all you need to do is archive digital blueprints. It is no longer necessary to physically store seldom-used replacement parts. Replacement parts for tools and machinery with improved functionality can be digitally adapted and printed out only when needed. This saves materials and resources.
But it is still unclear to what extent 3D printing can outstrip or even replace traditional manufacturing and logistics processes. Despite its potential, 3D print technology has limitations. To begin with, it cannot compete with the speed of traditional manufacturing processes and is not yet suitable for mass production. Plus, traditional processes for mass production are significantly cheaper than producing large quantities based on 3D print technology. And if products require smooth surfaces, they will need finishing following 3D print production, because it leaves a rough surface structure on objects made of synthetic fibres. Various product liability issues remain unresolved, too: if anyone can become a manufacturer or producer, who is liable when something breaks? Intellectual property (IP) rights present another challenge: if the “value” of a product resides in a digital file, will manufacturers insert copy protections and assign licensing rights to protect their IP? 3D printing is still so young that the law lags behind on such issues.
On the regulatory side, 3D printing also has the potential to undermine control mechanisms that ensure products are safe and appropriate for the market. Customs authorities lose their oversight capabilities when goods are no longer transported across borders; they would be unable to conduct consumer protection or safety controls, or keep counterfeit goods off the market the way they do now.
With 3D printing, goods can be printed close to the consumer, meaning they no longer need to be shipped halfway around the world. But this doesn’t mean that we will soon only be shipping raw materials and 3D print cartridges. In fact, experts are sceptical that the technology will have much of an impact on global transport volumes in the near future. The trend towards custom production is currently more likely to boost “last-mile” shipping, i.e. the movement of goods from a transport hub to their final destination in the area.
But one thing is certain: The market share of 3D print technology will increase and the trend toward customisation will continue. We will all benefit from the new technology’s ability to accommodate individual customer requests during production. Manufacturers will no longer keep large volumes of standardised products in stock, moving instead to a more flexible manufacturing model based on the “made to order” principle. The most likely outcome is that 3D printing will take its place alongside traditional production technologies, rather than replace them.
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.