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Enabling a more flexible, less expensive, faster supply chain

By Karen Haywood Queen Contributing Editor, SME Media

As manufacturers aim to become increasingly nimble in the marketplace,distributed manufacturing—making parts or finished products at or near the location where they will be used instead of at a central factory—is emerging as a way to advance a faster, more flexible and cheaper supply chain. Critical to the process is technology that secures the Digital Thread.

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HP’s Christoph Schell speaks at RAPID.

“Manufacturing processes are becoming more and more digital, meaning that instead of physical parts moving through the supply chain, it is now data,” Fabrizio De Pasquale, VP of business development at

Identify3D, said. “Along with the flexibility and speed associated with data movement, new challenges related to security, usage control and traceability have emerged and need to be resolved. In order to enable distributed manufacturing, IP owners need to be in control of this data.”

“We believe that 3D printing and digital manufacturing will disrupt how mankind produces, and there is no more need necessarily to manufacture in one central location,” Christoph Schell, president of 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing at HP, said in Detroit during a presentation at the RAPID show in May. “Each HP printer is… a little micro factory in its own right. The printer can manufacture a part. It is digital. It is connected to a cloud, which means we are able to monitor a printer and communicate with a printer.”

“When you talk about distributed manufacturing, manufacturers want to know how they can leverage their global networks of suppliers to deliver the parts they need,” Robert Meshel, director, additive manufacturing (AM) network, at Siemens Digital Industries Software, said in an interview. “The major drivers are going from economies of scale to Batch Size One, from mass production to situations where manufacturing is done locally, done fast and done in a flexible way. The reality is manufacturing needs to adhere to requirements on the market.”

The HP Digital Manufacturing Network, announced this year, is a global community of HP production partners intended to help design, produce and deliver plastic and metal parts at scale leveraging HP printing technology.

HP’s technology is being used in a variety of ways, including for R&D, prototyping, small-run production, spare parts production and the production of parts that can be made only using additive, Philipp Jung, chief strategy officer, HP, said at RAPID.

As manufacturing, especially additive, shifts toward more digitized production, data must be tightly secured, De Pasquale said.

“Our founders realized you have to start treating manufacturing data the way you would a Hollywood movie—to control how many times that piece of data is being accessed and utilized,” he said.

“The additive industry is inevitably progressing to move additive production from a lab-like environment to the factory floor where additive is embedded into the production. As they go through this industrialization of the process, they realize, ‘This is data I’m going to share with an outside supplier or maybe with another facility within my organization. But I don’t know exactly what kind of IT security is in place or what kind of people will be dealing with my data.’ That’s when companies start considering solutions like ours.”

The old model of making a product in a factory and then shipping it to the point of consumption is being replaced by a new model of designing and defining that product in one place, then shipping the plans to a producer to make at or near the point of consumption.

Sometimes, the producer is a subsidiary of the parent manufacturer; in other cases that producer is a supplier or other outside entity. In some situations, technology created for distributed manufacturing is used within one factory site to make sure that plans are followed to specifications.

Subtractive is also part of the picture

Demand for AM is helping to power this evolution. But in a few cases, distributed manufacturing also is being employed for subtractive processes.

For example, for a part to be delivered to eastern China, it likely is less expensive to send the digital specifications to a local supplier to make locally, using AM processes, compared with shipping and storing the end product, Meshel said.

Siemens is working with Identify3D on technology that enables distributed manufacturing, focusing for now on the automotive and aerospace sectors, he said.

“We are great believers in distributed manufacturing, digital manufacturing, manufacturing on demand—different words to describe something quite similar,” Meshel said.

A&D, power generation are adapting

Aerospace and defense and power generation are the early adopters of this technology, De Pasquale said.

“All of these are highly regulated and need to protect high-value IP,” he said. The challenge in aerospace and defense is a heightened focus on security. “These manufacturers have a strict regulatory need to make sure data doesn’t get in the wrong hands.”

The automotive industry also is considering distributed manufacturing to make spare parts, De Pasquale said. For example, an automaker could put industrial 3D printers in dealerships or at strategically located centers and produce in-demand parts produced at or near the dealerships.

In the future, the technology could be used to customize cars, including steering wheels, dashboard arrangement and air ducts, Schell said.

Again, security is paramount.

For example, a dishonest car dealership employee with access to the additive printer used to print additional car parts could, De Pasquale said:

  • print more parts than the agreement allowed and sell the extra parts;
  • substitute a less expensive, lower-quality material, and
  • change the specifications to produce 50 parts per hour instead of the specified 10 parts per hour.

Those last two changes result in a part that is completely out of spec, he said. The dishonest employee defrauds the automaker by selling parts on the side and the automaker could be liable for problems from those parts made completely out of spec.

“You could end up with a lot of parts in the market that are not produced according to the original recipe but you still have liability because the parts have your name on them,” De Pasquale said.

Secure and easy collaboration is key

An important goal is to collaborate securely and easily in work zones where there are varying amounts of trust and knowledge among numerous participants, Meshel said.

Manufacturers also must ensure that only the agreed upon number of parts or products are produced, that those parts are made exactly to specifications, and that production is not rushed, he said.

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“When you talk about distributed manufacturing, manufactures want to know how they can leverage
their global networks of suppliers to deliver the parts they need,” Robert Meshel, director, additive manufacturing (AM) network, at Siemens Digital Industries Software, said. “The major drivers are going from economies of scale to Batch Size One....”

Working with Identify3D, Siemens is able to secure the IP to make sure that the data is not copied and that the manufacturing process is followed, Meshel added.

“In additive manufacturing, you may define a specific part, also how it will be produced and what it looks like,” Meshel said. “Production needs to be done on a specific machine, using a specific process, and parameters need to be implemented with specific materials. You define not only what the part looks like but how it should be produced. Once you do all that, you have to encrypt the contents so the supplier is not able to take the data you’re sending and put in a different set of instructions. The supplier is not able to use the data unless they use your specific design. Anything you can define and control digitally can be enforced in the process. As long as you can certify the right processes were followed, only then do you certify the part.”

‘Still a lot of work to do’

As distributed manufacturing matures, the challenge is to develop technology that integrates the varied and numerous technologies in play across the industry, Meshel said.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” he said. “Today, you still need to go through many different solutions. One solution does not cover the entire workload. With the amount of integration needed, the ability to

maintain the Digital Thread can be compromised. That creates some potential breaks in the overall technology. It’s a great opportunity. But it is quite complicated.”

For example, issues arrive, if one manufacturing system is well-secured and a second system, either at the same manufacturer or a downstream distributed manufacturer, is not well protected, Meshel said.

Users must work through a complicated process to load the data from the less secure system, copy the data encrypt the data, then build the data into the secure system and then decrypt the data, he said. Putting the data through such a process lessens the data’s functionality.

“You may be relying on suppliers that you know very intimately and work with on a constant basis,” Meshel said. “Or you may go to a situation where you are relying on a large network or supply chain where you may not have a detailed or intimate relationship. You also may not be sure of the IT environment. But you need to be able to collaborate the entire work zone between these entities. It’s important to maintain the Digital Thread and to be fully secure.”

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To enable distributed manufacturing, IP owners need to control the data moving through the supply chain, said Identify3D’s Fabrizio De Pasquale.

The Siemens-Identify3D system supports the needed encryption without compromising functionality, he said. The goal for the future is to support even more use cases and variations of work, he said.

Encryption can be baked in

Identify3D’s protect-as-a-service application responds to the growing trend of manufacturing platforms, De Pasquale said. Customers upload their data to be distributed within a network of manufacturers and service providers.

“This represents the first data-entry point outside of the IP owner organization,” he said. “With our new

release, we guarantee data protection and control associated with this critical first interface. We encryptthe data and authorize use of the data only according to the specific manufacturing and business-related rules defined up front.”

Manufacturers define when they generate the data and the amount of access each user has to read and

edit the data, De Pasquale said. For example, a single AM system might be very complex, with 50 to 150 parameters defining the process, including temperature of gas, temperature for plates and more.

“Our customers spend a lot of time developing the right set of parameters for each part,” he said. “Businesses can control how many parts are licensed, the quantities, expiration dates. Depending on where you tweak those parameters, you can have different results in the end.

“In our system, you can be more or less restrictive. You can give different ranges to parameters. You can

implement rights management along the supply chain. Machines can be locked and can be interdicted whether a person can get access to the manufacturing system. It’s a very flexible framework on how you want the data to be used once that data is out of your direct control.”

Editor in Chief Brett Brune contributed to this article.

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