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Digital Fabrication Transformation

The conventional Business Model for Manufacturing is in the process of Transformation.  Centralized production has given way to dispersed manufacturing that is customized.  Conventional operating practice at large-scale manufacturers is to keep the high-cost R&D distinct from the low-cost production.  Digital Fabrication is changing this operating practice.

More and more Digital Fabrication Tools are being developed and used every day which is laying the foundation for Digital Transformation revolution.  These tools are being used to develop customized end-products by small-scale manufacturers and in some cases single-person manufacturing concerns.  Digital Fabrication tools may be 1 of the following 2 types:

  1. Programmable Subtractive Tools—designed to carve shapes from raw materials. Examples of such tools include laser cutters, CNC routers and milling machines, plasma or water jet cutters.
  2. Additive Rapid Manufacturing Tools—which are predominantly computer-operated 3-D printers that chiefly construct objects layer by layer but may also be designed to use laser or electron beams.

The impact of the community of individuals dealing in Digital Fabrication tools in disrupting the conventional manufacturing model, is more than the tools themselves.  The community is, essentially, a self-established, worldwide Supply Chain, involving quite a few interconnected setups, user clusters, cybershopping sites, and social media environments.

The creators have fashioned open-source collaborations that leverage dropping costs of Digital Fabrication and current social media connectedness.  Distributed manufacturing networks allow customers to post job requests that can be taken up directly by fabricators.

In the fabricator-culture, individuals are supposed to make their plans and specifications public, usually under an open-source license, which permits anyone to replicate, adapt, and learn from the designs; always giving credit to the creators and common access to ideas.  Collaborators share information mutually, assist each other in progressing, and nothing is owned or controlled centrally.  Accessible repositories allow creators to trade plans and instructions, align production, and sell their designs and fabricated articles straight to the society.

Considered holistically, Digital Fabrication and information sharing is ushering in a broadening of the manufacturing environment.

Big manufacturers will have to undergo Business Transformation by adopting open-source innovation, adaptable production, and knowledge-intensive production lines in order to move towards Digital Manufacturing.  Large-scale manufacturers desirous of taking advantage of the Digital Fabrication Transformation will find the following 5 principles indispensable in transforming their operating practices:

  1. Cultivate Digital Capabilities.
  2. Establish a Hybrid Product Line.
  3. Embrace Open Innovation.
  4. Develop New Fabrication Materials.
  5. Prepare for Misuse and Infringement.

Digital Fabrication’s effect on manufacturing has been similar to that of the internet on information-centric solutions and services or like video content platforms’ effect on television networks. 

Let us delve a little deeper into some of the principles. 

Cultivate Digital Capabilities

Investing in technology that enables the business to make part of the product portfolio using printable composites, in a back room, will give it a Competitive Advantage.

Gaining Digital Fabrication skills and experience now will set the launch pad for leveraging when the time is right. 

Establish a Hybrid Product Line

Start a product line that is mixed—with corresponding mass-production and individual-production articles.  New feature substitution, alteration in production line, or restarting production of old products can easily be achieved with Digital Fabrication tools, at a profit.

Certain commonly used products that are consumed in large quantities are better off produced on large scale.

Embrace Open Innovation

Offset reverse engineering and modification culture being driven by the ease of Digital Fabrication with Open Innovation.

Interested in learning more about Digital Fabrication Transformation?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on Digital Fabrication Transformation here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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