Automotive glass is one of those extremely mundane-sounding sectors that’s nonetheless indispensable to the stability of global supply chains. Those sectors, of course, seem to be the ones which have been most amenable in recent years for incorporation of additive manufacturing (AM) into their routine production operations.
Fittingly, then, in 2019, Saint-Gobain started using BCN3D’s Epsilon W50 printers and Smart Cabinets storage units in the Sekurit unit of its Barcelona plant. Saint-Gobain, a French multinational that has existed since 1665, and which is one of the key players in automotive glass, currently uses 3D printing to produce the tools, fixtures, and jigs it needs to make automotive sidelights and backlights.
Saint-Gobain just released a brief overview of the results of the adoption of 3D printing in its business operations thus far, and the numbers are solid: Barcelona’s Sekurit division has saved €170,000 (about USD$182,000) in barely three years. Even more impressively, and of the utmost significance to enhancing supply-chain resilience, use of 3D printing has reduced the lead times required for tooling by 93%.
$182,000 over the course of three years for a company the size of Saint-Gobain, with 180,000 employees across 75 countries, doesn’t sound like much initially. On the other hand, the Sekurit division alone has 39 plants around the world. So, if the company were to incorporate AM techniques at all its Sekurit plants, it could save over $2 million a year at baseline, just for this one application. When you start to consider the possibilities for Saint-Gobain increasing the number of AM applications it employs, as well as its incorporation of AM in additional divisions beyond Sekurit, the potential for significant long-term cost reduction becomes clear.
The logic behind digitizing the supply chain becomes clearer, moreover, when viewed against the larger backdrop of a general push towards lower carbon emissions, as well as the reduction in workforce seen in just about every industry since the pandemic started. Concerning the first of these things, Saint-Gobain last month entered into an agreement with German car manufacturer Audi, as well as German company Reiling Glas Recycling, for a one-year pilot program to recycle automotive glass. This is especially significant as no closed-loop recycling circuit yet exists for the product. If it’s successful, the combination of recycled glass and AM could contribute significantly to the aggregate reduction of carbon-emissions in automotive production. Because Saint-Gobain has slowly been increasing its activities in additive construction, there’s no reason to assume it won’t expand additive across its other operations.
Concerning the reduction in workforce since early 2020, in the United States, at least, the automotive glass sector has lost 14% of its technicians. It would be interesting to get a more detailed breakdown of Saint-Gobain’s numbers in this case, to see how much of the cost savings were labor-related. It’s important to keep in mind, beyond the cost savings, that the filling of supply chain gaps means that the company is able to keep output at a level that likely would’ve no longer been achievable without the incorporation of, in this case, 3D printing.
Additionally, from a longer-term perspective, and in all heavy industries, just-in-time and right-on-time production will continue to become more intertwined with standard operating procedures. AM isn’t the only solution to this problem, but it’s hard to imagine the problem being solved without its being an integral component.
Images courtesy of Sekurit
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