On-demand machining is not a new concept anymore, whether manufacturers are looking for components produced via CNC machining, 3D printing, or injection molding. The rise of SaaS, in some ways has contributed to this, with the benefits that come from shifting CapEx to OpEx. In a similar way, on-demand machining allows manufacturers to integrate building the components into OpEx, rather than having to purchase expensive machinery upfront.
The rise of on-demand machining also parallels other industries, such as ridesharing or courier delivery, where consumers select what they need in the moment, rather than investing in the resources. Although this trend has been present for a long time, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace.
The Deloitte 2021 manufacturing industry outlook reported, “For manufacturers, the events of 2020 may be a warning to develop better systems for navigating disruptions.” That same report speaks to agility as a necessity for resilience. The fact that on-demand machining is available from a wide variety of companies allows manufacturers to adapt and adjust as necessary, depending on availability, budget, and more.
Types of On-Demand Manufacturing
Let’s take a look at several of the types of on-demand machining. The most common types are CNC machining and 3D printing. Both processes use software in the production of components, however the two are fundamentally different. CNC machining is subtractive, which means that you begin with a large piece of aluminum, steel, plastic, or other material, and then the machine removes portions of the material. It’s similar to sculpting something from marble, where the artist chips away to create the final sculpture. 3D printing, on the other hand, is additive, so material is added (for example, through extrusion), and the component is built from the ground up. Both processes are also incredibly effective at creating prototypes; the ability to adjust code and design with a few clicks of a button allows for quick adaptability and experimentation.
As a field, CNC machining has already greatly impacted the manufacturing world. Numerical Control (NC) began in the 1940s and 50s with the automation of tools using punch tape. CNC, or computer numerical control, evolved from NC, and in the 1970s and 1980s, expanded rapidly. The ability to program the creation of parts to great precision elevated both the quality and the speed of production. Today, CNC is possible with a variety of materials, including alloys, metals, woods, plastics, glass, and more.
The first patent connected to 3D printing is from the early 1970s. Although there were developments over the years, the industry of additive manufacturing has grown exponentially since the 2010s. Additionally, as the technological costs have decreased, 3D printers have become more common. Although 3D printers originally were limited to plastics as a material, today, there is a wide range of options, including metals and ceramics.
The bottom line is that whichever on-demand machining process manufacturers choose, the high-precision quality, the speedy process, and the dispersal of expense have made it a highly valuable option. And, this approach continues to shift the manufacturing landscape, as fewer and fewer manufacturers set up their own factories.