One of the major stories of the last few years in the production of goods is additive manufacturing, something that is expected to continue in 2015. While it has long been a minor aspect of the industry as a whole, the development of consumer-grade 3-D printers has accelerated development of the entire vertical. Now, inspired by customer demand, commercial-grade printers are increasing in sophistication, making it possible to develop highly-advanced parts in a single run without needing to spend time molding and machining it properly. Combining this with effective materials management of ERP software such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2015 will be crucial for a manufacturer's success in deploying these machines into production.

Maybe not this year…
The year 2015 will play a pivotal role in furthering additive manufacturing's development. However, Mike Opal of Microsoft explained in an article for Industry Week that this will not be the breakout year for the vertical. Rather, manufacturers should look to 2015 as the time they start seriously paying attention to the evolution of 3-D printers. They should look to see where a machine like a laser sintering printer could fit into their assembly lines, especially when they consider what parts could benefit from the process.

More importantly, there are important shifts in consumer habits where both additive manufacturing and a flexible ERP solution like Dynamics NAV 2015 come into play. For example, a customer may want to buy a new set of pedals for his or her bicycle. Rather than having to order it from stock then have it delivered several days later, he or she can just order it locally by having a manufacturer print and machine the parts within the same day, and pick it up later on. This person can even make a request to have slight adjustments made to the pedals for comfort or convenience purposes. Fabrication shops and other businesses that look into this can easily become competitive in the local and regional industries.

…But the future is coming
There are a lot of reasons for manufacturers to consider adding 3-D printers and other machines to their production process. The main factor is that warehouse management systems become easier to maintain because there is less need of stock. This does require making adjustments to how orders are fulfilled because of the lack of inventory, however.

Still, the advances of 3-D printing technology are definitely enough that manufacturers should start to look into the field if they're not involved already. Additive manufacturing supplier RedEye notes that the amount of materials available to manufacturers for printing purposes has increased dramatically in recent years. For example, more polymers are available for stereolithogaphy assembly, while engineering-grade thermoplastics are being used for the fused deposition modeling method. The range of metals and plastics that can be used has also increased in other printing techniques.

With a greater emphasis on end-use parts being requested by consumers, the strength and durability of materials are the main focal points of innovation in 2015 for 3-D printers. In addition, engineers are increasingly looking to design using additive techniques, which will greatly impact how products are designed overall. These developments must be taken into consideration in developing a strong strategy for additive manufacturing.

To discuss Microsoft NAV solutions for manufacturing, join the Microsoft Dynamics NAV for Manufacturing LinkedIn group.