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3D printing is having a strong effect on nearly every industry and sector, but as has been pointed out before, it is not eliminating the manufacturing technologies that came before – nor should it. Alternate technologies such as CNC machining and injection moulding have their own benefits, which can be enhanced, rather than eclipsed, by the addition of additive manufacturing. A new study looks at the utilization of hybrid manufacturing in the United States, as well as the locations of additive manufacturing hubs and potential places for hubs to be constructed to complement traditional machine shops.

The article, entitled “Hybrid manufacturing — integrating traditional manufacturers with additive manufacturing (AM) supply chain,” can be accessed here. The study proposes the creation of a hybrid manufacturing supply chain based on metal additive manufacturing and uses scientific methods to identify the optimal locations for metal additive manufacturing hubs in the United States. It also suggests that traditional small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can participate in the evolving additive manufacturing supply chain by offering post-processing services via hybrid AM, and notes that adding capacity to existing additive manufacturing hubs is preferable to creating new ones at this time.

The research looks into a series of strategically located additive manufacturing hubs that can integrate hybrid additive manufacturing with the capabilities and excess capacity in multiple traditional manufacturing facilities.

“Using North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) data for machine shops in the U.S., an uncapacitated facility location model is used to determine the optimal locations for AM hub centers based on: (1) geographical data, (2) demand and (3) cost of hybrid-AM processing,” the researchers state. “Results from this study have identified: (a) candidate US counties to build AM hubs, (b) total cost (fixed, operational and transportation) and (c) capacity utilization of the AM hubs.

“It was found that uncapacitated facility location models identified demand centroid as the optimal location and was affected only by AM utilization rate whereas a constrained p-median model identified 22 AM hub locations as the initial sites for AM hubs which grows to 44 AM hubs as demand increases. It was also found that transportation cost was not a significant factor in the hybrid-AM supply chain. Findings from this study will help both AM companies and traditional manufacturers to determine location in the U.S and key factors to advance the metal hybrid-AM supply chain.”

The study is well worth a read as it highlights the importance of hybrid manufacturing techniques and emphasizes the importance of linking existing machine shops with additive manufacturing facilities, rather than creating new additive manufacturing facilities as standalone enterprises. This is an interesting take at a time when 3D printing centers seem to be springing up everywhere; tying them into traditional manufacturing facilities may be a more effective way of creating an efficient supply chain.

While additive manufacturing is capable of many things, most methods of 3D printing, particularly metal, require some sort of post-processing to remove supports and smooth rough surfaces, which is why hybrid 3D printer/CNC machines are becoming more common. In addition, 3D printing can serve as an aid to other technologies such as injection molding and casting, by providing an easier, faster and cheaper way to make molds. These are only a couple of examples of how additive manufacturing and other manufacturing technologies work better together than individually, and locating them geographically near each other makes sense on a number of levels.

Authors of the paper include Danielle Strong, Michael Kay, Brett Conner, Thomas Wakefield, and Guha Manogharan.

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