September 8, 2021

How to Combat Supply Chain Complexities

By Protolabs

Supply chains are critical to success, but are often incredibly complicated. This is even more relevant when we talk about custom parts because different manufacturing facilities can have very different capabilities. Something that is easy for one machine shop, may be impossible for another machine shop.

Some organizations may have hundreds, or even thousands of vendors to select from. How do you increase efficiency, reliability, and quality with so many choices? And how do you achieve all of this, when you’re faced with tight deadlines and also have to work within a set budget? Digital manufacturing could be your solution.

Let’s take a look at external supply chains within the National Laboratory system and how digital manufacturing fits in.

cnc machining

What is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing, synonymous with Industry 4.0, is the integration of technology, software, and automation with manufacturing processes. At the core of this concept, lies a computer system that enables smart technology to communicate. Digital manufacturing starts with a 3D CAD upload and quoting and extends to manufacturing, supply chain management, and everywhere in between.

Why Digital Manufacturing?

Automated, digital manufacturing allows suppliers like Protolabs to create a standardized process that is highly scalable. This allows for increased output, consistent manufacturing capabilities, reliable lead-time expectations, and reduced manufacturing time and cost.

Need a machined part fast? We can make it on mill #1, mill #314, or anywhere in between and get the same results—every day. Our automated processes and fixed inputs also allow us to quote designs in hours and provide a standard lead time for parts. This automation also helps drive down costs at low volume, while shortening the time it takes to make your parts—custom parts can be made in as fast as the same day they are ordered.

At Protolabs, our in-house digital manufacturing capabilities have infinity capacity. The numbers don’t lie:

  • 600+ CNC machines
  • 150+ 3D printers machines
  • 200+ injection molding presses
  • 45+ sheet metal press brakes, laser cutters, and other equipment

Supply Chain Resilience Report

Supply networks drive the world's economies. Not only that, we are dependent on global supply chains for access to everything from food, to medical equipment, to energy. This is why it is more important than ever for organizations to shore up their supply chains and make them more resilient to both predictable and unpredictable disruptions. In this report, we look at supply chain risks, industry trends and strategies to combat concern including manufacturing automation, agile internal processes, supply chain monitoring, among others.

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What does Digital Manufacturing Mean for Supply Chains?

  • Simplify and condense the process—submit parts for quote online 24/7 and receive a quote within hours or less.
  • Receive design for manufacturing feedback in hours, setting clear capability expectations up front.
  • Consistent and reliable short lead times and NO minimum order quantities, which helps reduce supply chain risk.
  • Minimal (if any) back and forth is required with our team to streamline the process as much as possible.
  • Transfer online purchasing requests to buyers with the click of a button. Submitting orders is also that easy and can be done at any time.
  • Check online for order statuses and updates.
  • Reduced pricing at low volumes due to less human labor required.
  • Digital thread brings transparency and speed from time of RFQ until the time parts are received on your dock.

In a volatile marketplace, it’s important to understand the role that digital manufacturers play in your supply chain, how to leverage them, and arguably most importantly—when to use them.

The answer? It depends on a number of other factors but ultimately most use cases are specific to individual labs, groups, programs, projects, and even parts.

Four Questions to Ask Yourself When Going Digital

  1. Where should we use digital manufacturing to gain the greatest impact?
  2. What employees and departments should be involved with digital manufacturing and how will they work together?
  3. How do we ensure that the different stakeholders across the company are familiar with digital manufacturing and its capabilities?
  4. How do your on-board new employees and get them up-to-speed on the available resources and when to use them?

Benefits and Knowledge Sharing at the Labs

Many companies—including our National Labs partners—have looked to strengthen their supply chain and become more agile and adapt to the evolving economy and its fast-paced environment. And they have benefited most by incorporating digital manufacturing. Because technology-enabled manufacturing has some core differences when compared to traditional manufacturing processes, many have realized even greater benefits by coordinating customized meetings with digital manufacturing companies like Protolabs. This format has allowed for a more tailored approach to address unique challenges across different departments and discuss potential areas that digital manufacturing can have a positive impact throughout your development cycles and supply chain.