Supplier Collaboration and On-Demand Manufacturing

Supply chain consolidation, value added manufacturing, vendor collaboration … terms we are all familiar with, but in today’s always on, always connected environment, manufacturers need something more. 

Just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) has been around for decades and was truly first implemented on a grand scale at Toyota. There is this mythology that was referred to as the Toyota Production System. The primary goal was to streamline operations including supplier activities and reduce inventories. In the 1990s, this concept transformed into lean manufacturing, literally meaning to remove waste. The most recent evolution of this fundamental thought process is on-demand manufacturing.

On-demand manufacturing simply brings the best of all of its predecessors together and is designed to supply components as needed with little notice, on time, every time. Think of it this way, you can procure custom parts nearly as easily as off-the-shelf fasteners, for example.

To do this, one must understand the supplier’s capabilities, limitations and areas of expertise, and how this complements the rest of their supply chain. Design for manufacturing is crucial. Not only does this give a customer valuable information about their parts or assemblies, but is emphasizes where the supplier will be able to add value on the project today and in the future.

Take note of the product life cycle image. It is all too common to have a sole supplier when a product moves to high-volume production — this can create unnecessary risks.

Click to enlarge:

We all know that developing dual sourcing can drive costs well above the comfort zone, but is often a necessary risk. Additional value is created when a supplier that helps develop prototype parts can also support future parts needs throughout the life of a product. When your prototyping suppliers can support low-volume orders reliably, the need for a traditional secondary production source is eliminated if production doesn’t exceed tens of thousands of parts. This also creates a nimble supply chain for fast turnaround without carrying costly inventory for bridge tooling, maturity demand spikes, and end-of-life or warranty support.

Read more about using rapid manufacturing for supply chain management in the white paper: Reducing Risk Through On-Demand Manufacturing

THE SHORT LIST: 5 Med-Friendly Materials

Developing medical devices or health care components? Here’s five good material options to consider.

PEEK, PEI (Ultem) and PPSU (Radel). Attributes: High temperature resistance, creep resistance and works well for applications that require sterilization.

Polycarbonates (Makrolon and LEXAN HP1). Attributes: Good clarity with clear and translucent applications, good impact resistant, and durability.

Medical-grade LSR.

Medical-grade liquid silicone rubber (QP1-250). Attributes: Thermal, electrical and chemical resistance, biocompatibility, and is suitable for skin contact.

Titanium (Ti 6-4). Attributes: Lightweight, temperature and corrosion resistant 3D printed metal used with direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process to produce fully functional medical components.

WaterShed XC 11122.

WaterShed XC 11122. Attributes: ABS-like material used to 3D print clear microfluidic parts with sterolithography (SL) process. Resistance to water and humidity, and good for lens and flow-visualization models.

For more information on materials, check out our complete selection at, and to learn more about using rapid manufacturing to develop health care and medical products, read our white paper: Prototyping and Low-Volume Production for Medical Applications.

Trade Show Roundup: Detroit and Boston

The automotive and medical industries are on display this week at a couple of high-profile trade shows:

We’ll be at SAE World Congress running today through Thursday at the COBO Center in Detroit. Find us at booth #1335 to talk with a customer service engineer about how quick-turn 3D printing, machining and injection molding are well-suited for automotive prototyping.

In Boston, we’ll be talking device development and prototyping in booth #304 at BIOMEDevice, taking place at the Boston Convention Center tomorrow and Thursday. Get a free Expo Hall pass with code: invite.


WEBINAR: Rapid Manufacturing Methods for Plastic Parts

Tony Holtz, Tech Specialist.

You’re invited to join Proto Labs’ live webinar presentation on rapid manufacturing. The free webinar will be hosted by our technical specialist Tony Holtz and last around 45 minutes with a Q+A to follow.

You’ll hear about the different industrial 3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding processes at Proto Labs, and learn which one is best suited for your next project, based on the project’s material requirements, quantities and lead times.

TITLE: Choosing the Right Rapid Manufacturing Method for Plastic Parts

DATE: Thursday, April 21 at 1 p.m. CDT


Unable to attend? Register anyway and we’ll email you the recording afterward!

6 Ways to Cut Machining Costs

The left image illustrates resulting corner radii from milling. Consider adding reliefs to sharp corners (right image) to improve fit.

Machining gets a bit more complex every year, and as a result, it can be challenging to keep pace with the do’s and don’ts of part design. But lowering the cost of machined parts while improving functionality can still be achieved by a few relatively simple adjustments to your part design or material selection.

Small tool diameters add machining time so consider removing text or logos from machined prototypes.

This month’s tip discusses:

  • Machining corner holes
  • Deburring edges
  • Avoiding unnecessary text
  • Keeping an eye on thin features
  • Reducing part complexity
  • Selecting material alternatives