The last two years have seen a major shift in the technology available to manufacturers, supply chain and logistics professionals. Yet 3D models remain underutilized by those sectors.
For manufacturers, core 3D data takes the form of computer-aided design (CAD)— the digitized technical drawings produced by engineers for the making of product. 3D models have traditionally been identified by SKU number, bill of materials and the text strings attached to them. This had led to search and identification issues. Through reliance on geometric search, organizations can gain a deeper understanding of their 3D models, resulting in streamlined supply chain operations.
For manufacturers with tens or hundreds of thousands of parts, the models inevitably contain common components, such as screws, that are reused in multiple designs. Manufacturers might have dozens of units that are the same or geometrically similar, yet meant for different equipment and bearing different labels and file names.
Supply chain professionals might unknowingly order the same parts in small quantities from multiple suppliers, meaning that procurement is overpaying for parts and becoming more susceptible to supply chain disruptions because of a reliance on more suppliers than necessary.
An understanding of 3D data eliminates these redundancies. For larger businesses, that can result in millions or even billions of dollars in savings per year, along with a more resilient supply chain.
Imagine an organization with hundreds of screws in its inventory for use in various products, provided by a variety of suppliers. In instances where the screws are geometrically identical, inventory can be consolidated down to a single screw.
By securing the right parts at the right price, manufacturing can eliminate excess inventory. The principle extends to virtually every part, including washers, bearings, pipes and valves, resulting in the elimination of duplication.
For their part, logistics managers can drive significant savings throughout the organization by resolving redundancies that occur as a result of parts that are physically the same or functionally similar, with only aesthetic differences.
The standardization of identical parts can save engineers considerable time during the design process, as they have fewer parts to choose from. Similarly, procurement managers have fewer parts to manage, reducing time to market. And less inventory allows for a reduction in square footage in the factory and warehouse, cutting costs along with the organization’s carbon footprint.
The last two years have taught us that there will always be logistics crises and interruptions. The modern logistics industry is defined in large part by its constraints, whether that be cargo ships parked in the ocean due to port congestion, a shortage of truck drivers, or international tumult like China’s zero tolerance COVID-19 policy and Shenzhen city’s recent shutdown.
When supply chain crises hit, the manufacturers that will come out ahead are those that have optimized their inventory to mitigate the impact. They know which parts in inventory can be used interchangeably, or can serve as replacements in an emergency, when parts become difficult to procure. And they’re better able to find, develop and manage alternative suppliers.
Sustainability is becoming an imperative for modern businesses of all sizes. A deeper understanding of 3D data can help reduce Scope 3 emissions, which are those generated by parties that aren’t directly controlled by the reporting organization. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, such emissions often represent the majority of an organization’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) production.
Returning to the screw example, suppose that a manufacturer has two screws that are similar enough to be consolidated. Logistics managers can cut Scope 3 emissions by choosing the one from the supplier with better environmental practices. Or they could select a domestic manufacturer rather than importing the item, thereby eliminating GHG emissions caused by long-distance air or ocean freight. They might even select a screw made from material that’s more environmentally friendly.
Manufacturers today possess a wealth of data in their 3D models, but many aren’t using it to generate insights that can lead to positive change. If supply chain and logistics managers can derive knowledge from that data, the benefits become material, in the form of greater supply chain resilience, inventory consolidation, improved crisis management, and more environmentally conscious purchasing decisions.
As those benefits are realized, organizations will continue to drive value from their supply chains, becoming healthier and more effective.
Paul Powers is chief executive officer of Physna.
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