Starting this year, 3D printing is poised for a major leap in its impact on manufacturing and supply chains, according to computer industry giant HP.
The company conducted extensive interviews with a team of experts who identified the top trends they believe will have a major impact on advancing what HP calls “Industry 4.0.” They include addressing the need to create more sustainable production, explaining how automation will transform the factory floor, and describing ways in which the rise of data and software will become the backbone of digital manufacturing.
“The year ahead will be a time of realizing 3D printing and digital manufacturing’s true potential across industries,” said Pete Basiliere, founder of Monadnock Insights, which helped prepare the research for HP.
“As HP’s trend report indicates, digital manufacturing will enable production of users’ ideal designs by unlocking new and expanded software, data, services, and industrial production solutions that deliver more transformative experiences while also disrupting legacy industries.”
Among the predictions is that automated assembly will thrive on the factory floor, with industries seamlessly integrating multi-part assemblies made up of combinations of both 3D printed metal and plastic parts.
The panel admits there’s not currently a super printer that can do all things intrinsically, like printing metal and plastic parts, due to factors such as processing temperatures. However, they say that as automation increases, the industry envisions a more automated assembly setup offering access to both metals and plastics parts production.
This could benefit the auto industry by enabling manufacturers to print metals into plastic parts, build parts that are wear-resistant and collect electricity, add surface treatments, and even build conductors or motors into plastic parts, HP says.
Coding digital information into 3D printed textures will accelerate as well, the panel predicts. Organizations will be able to code digital information into the surface texture itself using advanced 3D printing, providing a bigger data payload than just the serial number.
This is one way to tag a part, either overtly or covertly, so that both people and machines are able to read it based on the shape or orientation of the bumps produced, the company explains.
An example is the 3D printing hundreds of copies of a serial number across the surface of a part so that it’s both hidden and universally apparent. This will continue to grow as the ability to track parts and data systems becomes even more important.
The HP experts say sustainable production will help drive adoption. “Traditional manufacturing processes were designed with little thought to the environment. As industrial 3D production intersects with manufacturing, the impact on the planet could be immense as nearly one-third of carbon emissions are related to production and distribution of goods.”
3D printing will enable the manufacturing industry to produce less waste, less inventory and less CO2 emissions, they add.
Engineers and designers will rethink design throughout the product lifecycle to use less material and reduce waste by combining parts and using complex geometries to produce lightweight parts. This further reduces the weight of vehicles and aircraft to improve fuel efficiency, leading to less greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.
3D printing also is seen driving new supply chain efficiencies. As more manufacturers transmit digital files for production locally rather than shipping goods, there will be significant decreases in shipping, reducing costs, energy consumption, waste and emissions, HP predicts.
“The capability to deliver things digitally and produce things locally has not always won out,” it argues. “At the end of the day, manufacturers must analyze where in the supply chain it’s the most efficient to root production – whether it’s near end users or near the source of material production.”
Among the industries impacted the most will be automotive, footwear, eyewear and dental product manufacturing, according to the report.
In 2020 we will see the gap close between what 3D printing and digital manufacturing hardware can do and what the software ecosystem supports, HP says. “Advancements in software and data management will drive improved system management and part quality leading to better customer outcomes.”
HP also predicts that manufacturers will leverage personalized biometric data for mass-customization, unlocking new value for such things as the traceability of parts through the supply chain, virtual inventory and spare parts management, and the ability to put in place distributed manufacturing closer to the end customer.
<h3>OSHA’s Rules Apply to Temps</h3>
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reminds employers that its safety regulations also apply to temporary employees.
It reinforced this point when it recently updated its Protecting Temporary Workers website for use by staffing agencies and their clients. The agency also mounted a Temporary Worker Initiative beginning in 2014 that focuses resources on this area.
Although the issue of joint employer status is still being argued in regard to wage, hour and labor laws, it has been well established for years that temp staffing firms and their host employers are jointly responsible for the safety and health of their workers under federal law.
In the past, OSHA also has issued pamphlets and cards that employers are expected to distribute to their temp workers. These explain that their rights when working at a client firm match those of that company’s permanent employees.
As these published bulletins make clear, fulfilling the shared responsibility for temporary worker safety requires thoughtful coordination between staffing agencies and host employers, point out James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen, attorneys with the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw.
OSHA has previously acknowledged that a host employer may have more knowledge of the specific hazards associated with the host worksite, while the staffing agency has a more generalized safety responsibility to the employees, they note.
“As a result, OSHA allows host employers and staffing agencies to divide training responsibilities based upon their respective knowledge of the hazards associated with the specific worksite,” the lawyers explain.
While host employers will typically have primary responsibility for training and communication regarding site specific hazards, Curtis and Simonsen also stress the continuing responsibility of staffing agencies to make reasonable inquiries to verify the host employer is meeting these requirements.