AMS Spring 2023

Boeing and Partners Establish Fully Controlled Distributed 3D Printing Network

Inkbit

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Relying on a digital platform from Assembrix, Boeing, EOS, BEAMIT,  and 3T Additive Manufacturing have established a fully controlled distributed 3D printing network across continents. The network was able to remotely and securely produce parts on EOS 3D printers directly, heralding a possible future in which distributed additive manufacturing (AM) could become a part of standard production workflows.

“We are providing our clients with a virtual additive manufacturing factory, where 3D printers using a variety of technologies and in different geographic locations are remotely and securely controlled,” said Lior Polak, CEO of Assembrix.

Key to facilitating the process was the Virtual Manufacturing System (VMS) of Assembrix, which virtualizes industrial 3D printing, overseeing the entire AM thread from the starting 3D model to the verified physical. Using VMS, it’s possible to securely assign jobs to individual machines, with IP protected and a transaction trail that is auditable. Customers can then monitor jobs in real-time and data from machines can be monitored to guarantee that they are operating within the proper parameters. This includes cooling, print speed, temperature, and humidity within the machine bay.

The exact details of the part that was printed, including when, where, how, were not disclosed, perhaps given the sensitive nature of the aerospace and military industries. Assembrix began its relationship with Boeing in 2018, with the goal of quickly and securely transmitting production data to 3D printers at its facilities across the globe. Because BEAMIT subsidiary 3T is based in the U.K., we might imagine Boeing Israel to have their parts produced at 3T in Berkshire on EOS machines.

 “Being able to securely connect the customer directly to the AM machine, anywhere in the world, has been a long-standing vision within the community. The end-to-end digital integration of a supply chain transforms the business model of traditional manufacturing to a scalable and flexible network of virtual warehouses for on-demand supply, with security and quality embedded into the system. The ability to digitize the complete value chain with our strategic partner Sandvik, means that BEAMIT Group is now able to offer the next generation of advanced manufacturing services,” said Dan Johns, CEO 3T Additive Manufacturing and CTO BEAMIT Group.

Security for the network was established through a combination of blockchain and close integration of Assembrix and EOS software. As one of the initial members of the EOS Developer Network, the company was able to utilize the EOSPRINT and EOSCONNECT APIs to create its controlled distributed manufacturing network.

Assembrix’s solution (PRNewsfoto/Assembrix)

Markus Glasser, Senior Vice President EMEA at EOS, was able to speak to some of the advantages of distributed manufacturing, saying, “Industrial 3D printing allows for demand-driven production, streamlines processes, and makes the supply chain more robust and sustainable. Combining the technology with digital manufacturing structures results in maximum transparency thanks to real-time reporting, flexibility and performance. There are many benefits to this approach, including increased transparency of supply chains, adapting products to individual or regional tastes and even a reduced product carbon footprint.”

There are numerous 3D printing networks and services with multiple production locations, but distributed manufacturing is still sort of a twinkle in a dreamer’s eye. For instance, GE Additive’s Manufacturing Partner Network and SAP’s Distributed Manufacturing platform are meant to allow customers to have parts produced via partners in the networks. However, news related to either hasn’t been very significant, raising the question as to how extensive either network is.

Service providers like Sculpteo, Materialise, Shapeways, Protolabs, Xometry, FATHOM, Fast Radius and Stratasys Direct Manufacturing may more realistically deliver parts closer to their customers via the use of multiple production locations and partners, but it would be difficult to label these distributed manufacturing networks quite yet.

The ultimate goal is to be able to produce parts closest to their location of use, thus reducing myriad stops along the supply chain as well as the associated costs and greenhouse gas emissions. We’re still far from realizing that goal and, in the case of this story, Boeing and its partners may be working toward delivering components on-demand, but it is just one small step in the right direction. By focusing explicitly on the goal of distributed manufacturing, Assembrix may be an important player setting up the proper software infrastructure.

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