Manufacturing has become more than humans working with machines. Software, technological breakthroughs and new facilities continue to evolve manufacturing in ways that create new possibilities for companies that make things.
Digital manufacturing tops the list of ways manufacturing has developed over the recent past. Defined by Industry Week (2017) as an integrated approach to manufacturing that is centered around a computer system, digital manufacturing is the fastest and easiest way to transform a concept into a reality.
First, your company designs with CAD (computer-aided design), from which a machine executes. According to a CB Insights’ Research Briefs blog (2019), once you receive your part, you may do several things with it: make it into a prototype, build a mold, or put the part into production.
PMI member Grohe uses 3D printing to create a faucet
Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI) member Grohe has brought digital manufacturing into its wheelhouse by means of 3D metal-printing, a technology that uses laser beams to melt layers of metal powder on top of each other. This powdered metal is spread across the entire build platform and selectively melted to previous layers, creating an additive process that allows metal parts to be grown out of a bed of powdered material.
In this video, Grohe vice president of design Michael Seum explains and demonstrates the process of designing and producing an ultra-thin sink fitting called the Icon 3D. This fitting is named after the process that was used to create it and pushes the boundaries of what’s possible for the future of the plumbing manufacturing industry through the use of digital manufacturing.
A variety of 3D metal-printing materials are available, including stainless steel, cobalt chrome, maraging steel, aluminum, nickel alloy, and titanium – materials used very frequently in bathroom fixtures.
3D printing one of three key digital manufacturing technologies
In addition to 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, other digital manufacturing technologies include laser cutting and computer numerical control (CNC), says the McKinsey & Company’s Manufacturing Handbook (2017). Laser cutting is a digital subtractive fabrication technique. To put it simply, it cuts or engraves a material – such as metal, wood or cardboard – by using a laser. CNC is another subtractive manufacturing process through which a computer controls the cutting and shaping of parts, which are typically metal.
With consumer habits and expectations ever changing, finding new methods of production is necessary, and digital manufacturing appears to be the best answer to this evolution, says McKinsey & Company. Allowing for iterative production, digital manufacturing is beneficial to meeting consumer demand, and is much quicker and more efficient in producing high-quality prototypes.
Iterative. Meets consumer demand. Quicker. Efficient. All good reasons why digital manufacturing is an exciting development in the production of plumbing products.
Sculpteo, Digital manufacturing – the factory of the future is here today, Industry Week, January 10, 2017.
CB Insights. The future of manufacturing technology, future factory: how technology is transforming manufacturing, CB Insights Research Brief, June 27, 2019.
McKinsey & Company. The great re-make: manufacturing for modern times, McKinsey & Co. Manufacturing Handbook, June 2017.