Introduction to On-Demand Manufacturing: A Beginner’s Guide

By Mary Celestin, Engineering Intern.

Let’s get right to it! What is traditional manufacturing, and how does that differ from “on-demand” manufacturing? Traditional manufacturing is the process of streamlining the assembly of a product on a macroscale. Think about your clothes, for example. Someone can design, sew and finish an article of clothing themselves. There can be a series of people responsible for a single task that, when combined in an assembly line, make an article of clothing. One person sews on the buttons for a shirt while another person lines the collar and so forth. Across all the people, each doing their specific task on this collared shirt journey, we get our product in bulk much faster than if just one person was making the shirt. 

Traditional forms of manufacturing function in this way. You decide a set number of shirts to make to sell, along with a set number of extras to account for unexpected demand. Then you assembly your shirts on a manufacturing factory floor with some combination of people and machines, completing each step in the assembly process.  

So what does on-demand manufacturing mean? And what are the advantages compared to traditional manufacturing? 

Well, firstly, you can see how on-demand our world is by simply looking around your day-to-day activities and habits. We have food delivered on-demand when we’re hungry; we call ‘taxis’ on-demand when we need to get somewhere; we stream shows on-demand from the comfort of our living rooms, So why not make parts/components when you need them? 

Additionally, there are many shortcomings when it comes to traditional manufacturing. There are high barriers to entry for traditional manufacturing, inclusive but not limited to high capital costs, high minimum order requirements, long lead times (due to many manufacturing facilities being overseas; large orders of a product can take up to 6-10 months to produce) and excess inventory. 

On-demand manufacturing eliminates these issues and allows a company flexibility with their product. You can prototype a product or make a handful for a specific project without dealing with high fees for failing to meet a high minimum order requirement. You can rapidly manufacture a product and avoid long lead times and excess inventory by only building what you need when you need it. But how does one manufacture a product on-demand? 

The same way that other on-demand services work. You have self-service online platforms where you, as the client, upload your design specifications and work with manufacturers in real-time to make your products. One of the top manufacturing styles for on-demand manufacturing is an additive manufacturing (AM). AM is a manufacturing technique that creates 3D objects by adding material together layer by layer. AM technology often includes computer-aided design (CAD) software and respective technologies and layering material needed for the specified process. Once a CAD model is produced, AM technology reads the CAD file’s data. It adds layers of sheet material, powder, liquid, or other raw material layer by layer to create the 3D object. And voila — you can make a product with on-demand manufacturing! 

On-demand manufacturing is great for smaller companies that want specific products at a small scale and for any sized company that wants the flexibility to manufacture a product for particular situations–such as a railway company that needs to replace a few out-of-date parts rapidly to maintain a train’s usable capacity. 

In this series, we will be talking about all things on-demand manufacturing (from different technologies and processes to sustainable product design) to get you up to speed on this growing and innovative industry– so stay tuned!

Interested in learning more about CAD? Check out Ivaldi’s “Introduction to CAD” Lesson Plan!

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