Is it time to rethink your relationship with your manufacturing partner?

by Jim Ashby, Applications Development Manager

Following a manufacturing technology and process-agnostic approach means that, as an engineering and manufacturing business, we are unbiased towards the use of any specific technologies when solving manufacturing problems.

Being technology and process-agnostic supports the notion that there is no ‘one size fits all’ to get a solution. There are many ways to skin the cat (so to speak). However, in my experience of manufacturing subcontracting using Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies, there are some pitfalls to avoid.

AM technologies abound. There are more three-letter-acronyms bandied about in this industry that I’ve come across in any other field (and I’ve worked with the military!) Each have their strengths and weaknesses – and each usually requires a specific mix of machinery, materials, post-processing and, above all – skillset.

It may sound strange for a company like Paragon, who are deeply involved in AM, to advocate for taking a process-agnostic approach to solving a problem. But sometimes, that’s precisely the right thing to do.  It is easy to get swept up in the multitude of fantastic (in both senses of the word*) AM technologies that have been developed to make modern manufacturing run smoothly.  With access to more and more processes, it’s inevitable that a horde of companies will race to offer the ‘latest and greatest’ technology, vying for your attention – and your business.

Ultimately, AM technology is a tool. Just like you wouldn’t use a hammer to drive screws or a screwdriver to hammer in nails, you need the right tool for the job. In AM, it’s way more nuanced than hammers and screwdrivers. It’s in those minutiae that there are opportunities to improve your AM purchasing.

Solving manufacturing problems - an image of a factory system

At Paragon it’s our task is to look at the big picture for you. It’s vital to disassociate the final outcome – be that a one-off model, short-run production part or a full manufacturing run from the process currently supporting it.

Here are three key reasons to separate outcome from technology:

  1. Hidden Inefficiencies
    Many times, AM suppliers will try to tweak your requirements to fit the limited processes and skills they offer. When – for example – your supplier only offers one or two technologies with one or two materials it’s natural for them to shoehorn their offering into your requirements – irrespective of whether that’s the optimum solution for you. The better suppliers – with many AM (and traditional) technologies – will look at each step of the process through the technology-agnostic lens of what your business needs rather than forcing things to fit their limited offering and help you to identify potential improvements to your manufacturing process.
  2. Innovation
    When you want to shake things up and look for new solutions and marketplaces, it’s important to dive deeper into the in-house capabilities of your potential manufacturing partner. Look at the business that’s supporting your AM journey – look behind the process without the constraints of what’s possible with your current supplier. In doing so, you are free to imagine all of the possibilities without wondering how your present supplier can accomplish it.
  3. Opportunity
    When you free yourself from the bonds of “we’ve always done it that way,” exciting new opportunities present themselves. Maybe you’ll discover a unique product opportunity or a new market that you can serve in partnership with a process and technology agnostic partner.

What does that mean for me?

By spending time looking at your existing subcontract supplier, and finding out what they actually offer in-house, you may discover that there is a better, more rounded and more mutually beneficial partnership to be had elsewhere. Maybe you’ll discover an opportunity to create an altogether better way of making what you want. By removing the mental block of viewing solutions through the technology that you think is on offer, and instead, viewing technologies that fit your manufacturing processes, is a very valuable exercise.

At Paragon, we’re in the technology-agnostic camp – partly because we have a large number of in-house technologies to offer. Essentially, this approach is what allows us to choose the most appropriate technology to find the best outcome for you. Our portfolio of available technologies and skillsets has allowed us to grow over the last 20 years to be one of the largest solution providers in the UK.

In every project, we use the technology that best fits our client’s requirements. Whether that’s (here we go with the three-letter acronyms…) SLA, SLS, DLS, RIM, FFF, CNC, MJF, Silicone moulding, Vac casting, PU moulding or traditional model making – all of which we have in-house on our site in the UK. We are problem solvers, never limiting ourselves to just one tool to solve the complex problems you encounter every day.

Give us a call – we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Even better, come and see for yourself, we’d be delighted to host you.

*Yes, there are a LOT of non-real-world technologies being bandied about. Great websites, great potential but ultimately ‘vapourware’.