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Understanding the investment case for additive manufacturing

Like most 8-year olds, I had no idea what my father did back in 1979. Frankly, I don’t think I cared. As long as it meant we could afford a colour television to watch Ed Stewart on Crackerjack I was happy.

It wasn’t until I was about nineteen that I mentioned to my father some problems I was having on my college summer placement at Vickers Nuclear Engineering. I was rotating through the departments and had ‘sadly landed’ in the quality control department. I was baffled. They wanted me to review their newly created ISO9000 documentation to see how it compared to their previous BS5750 documentation. “Yawn”…

Little did I know that my father was both the cause of my problem and the solution!

Back in the mid-1970s, my father was the quality control manager at the Dutch appliance manufacturer Philips (my parents were very lazy naming their children). The company had a strong quality and safety ethos and co-opted my father onto a British Standards Institute (BSI) working group to develop a standard for manufacturing production procedures. This activity led to the publication of BS5750. My father spent the next few years helping different manufacturing companies adopt and embed BS5750 before transitioning his knowledge across to ISO9000 and ultimately ISO9001.

It took my father about 30 seconds to explain what I needed to do to keep the QA manager at Vickers happy. He then spent the next few hours explaining why standards are vital to the success of companies, supply chains and industries as a whole.

Fast forward another 30 years, and like good-old dad, I also found myself sitting in a BSI working group. Albeit with a few differences.

In early 2019, I was asked by BSI and their sponsors UK Research & Innovate (UKRI) to write a guide for senior executives and finance professionals to help them understand the business case for investment in additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing. The rationale being that the engineers who understand AM/3DP don’t always know what the budget holders want to hear and struggle to secure investment. Inversely, the budget holders don’t always know what questions to ask or which stones to turn over to find the ‘real-cost’ or ‘risk’ of AM/3DP technology adoption.

In late 2020, after 18-months working with BSI, UKIR, and a group of industry stakeholders, we finally published PAS6001:2020 – Factors to be considered in making and assessing the business case for additive manufacturing and 3D printing. PAS6001 is a fast-track standardisation document, which defines good practice when building or evaluating the business case for AM/3DP investment.

Many readers of TCT might overlook the value of such a document; after all, AM/3DP technology has been around for over 30-years, so surely procurement and implementation is easy.

Not so.

In the 18-years I have been delivering AM/3DP strategy consultancy; I have seen my fair share of poor technology due diligence and investment train-wrecks. These often stem from business executives’ unrealistic want and needs, who often see AM/3DP as some enabler for ‘manufacturing revolution’. Inversely, many investment errors also come from the magpie-like egos of R&D departments, who see a shiny new toy they need to justify.

About five or six years ago, I was asked to run an innovation workshop in a large American heavy machinery company. The idea, or so I thought, was to identify applications where AM/3DP could impact the companies top line revenue or reduce waste and grow bottom-line profitability. However, unbeknown to me, there was a poorly hidden agenda. When I arrived, I was asked if I could tailor the workshop slightly to ‘focus on possible applications that would make good use of the machines that had already acquired?’

As it turned out, the companies senior management were ‘so bought into AM/3DP’ they had ‘released’ a 2 million USD budget to engineering and procurement to embed AM/3DP into the business. Doing what good procurement people do, they had negotiated a fantastic price of two large platform metals machines with all the whistles, bells and ancillary technology. However, it was obvious to the trained eye that the technology was a total mismatch for the business needs.

Inversely, I have also seen this story played out in reverse, where the engineers have identified the most appropriate technology for a given application, only for procurement and management to cut a PO for a ‘more cost-effective platform’. Again, the result is the same, an under-utilised machine and a bitter taste all round.


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