What Is Digital Inventory And How Does It Work?

By on November 11th, 2019 in interview

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 Dominik Lindenberger, Product Owner Agile PLM and Boleslaw Telesinski, Head of AM Services Consult using AM Part Identifier [Source: 3YOURMIND] Dominik Lindenberger, Product Owner Agile PLM and Boleslaw Telesinski, Head of AM Services Consult using AM Part Identifier [Source: 3YOURMIND]


A new concept is sweeping the world of additive manufacturing: Digital Inventory.

We spoke with Dominik Lindenberger, Product Owner at Germany-based 3YOURMIND to find out more.

Fabbaloo: When 3YOURMIND was founded in 2014, what was the original product & service concept?

3YOURMIND was originally launched as the first online marketplace for professional 3D printing services (the Amazon of 3D Printing). We were focused on providing wide access to engineers to quickly upload and access professional, validated 3D bureaus. Our goal was to become an open, online marketplace to those services.

Fabbaloo: How has that business model evolved over the past five year? What are you focusing on today?

Dominik Lindenberger: Already at the end of 2015, we received clear signals from our customers at large OEMs and at service bureaus that they could get more value from software that automates their existing customer and supplier relationships rather than being put into an open market. Both sides of the transaction already knew and trusted each other and our platform became a way to streamline the communication, organization and automate many of the mundane tasks like generating invoices and evaluating files. In 2017 we added the AM Part Identifier to help find better parts because we saw a lot of confusion about properly selecting AM business cases taking into account both technical and economic criteria and transforming projects from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing applications.

Since 2018, we have been putting a significant amount of our programming effort to the development of our Agile MES because the volume of parts that were being processed by AM services was starting to overwhelm the manual processes behind the scenes. That meant that any company that wanted to scale their production beyond a few machines would need this layer of automation on top of it. Since then, we are continuing to add key functionalities to the Agile MES and make a seamless data stream from AM part management to the final product.

Fabbaloo: One of the services you’ve been focusing on lately is the new concept of Digital Inventory. Can you explain how that works?

Dominik Lindenberger: The Digital Inventory is our most recent addition to our Agile Manufacturing Suite. This became a clear need from logistics, aerospace and automotive customers who are all focused on building up spare parts libraries and supporting repeat, on-demand production. It allows the key AM team to save parts along with their order and production settings so that anyone can repeat the order and know that the part has been defined correctly. We are already at work with several of those customers to allow the automatic ordering of parts from external ERP systems connected over our API. This is the start of change and transformation from transporting physical parts to sending digital data to remote manufacturing locations for 3D printing at global production sites.

Fabbaloo: Why would a company want to use a digital inventory concept? What benefits might they receive?

Dominik Lindenberger: The digital inventory is another step to support the AM expert team in an organization to create processes that can be repeated by other employees that are less familiar with additive manufacturing. This is always an important factor for our team because well-trained AM experts are in high demand, so any tools we can build to multiply their effectiveness helps scale AM faster.

With the Digital Inventory, AM experts can publish the parts that are ready and verified to be produced in AM. It is a tool for making their work public throughout a company and for guaranteeing quality. It provides time savings by not defining the same part multiple times for production.

For the average employee, they are able to see a list of parts, ready to be produced with a click. This is also important for companies who are digitizing aging inventories. When they have parts they need urgently or spare parts from suppliers who have gone out of business, being able to redirect employees to the part in a digital inventory saves time and also helps to steadily increase the overall volume of AM production.

When these verified digital inventories are deployed in companies it ensures a high level of repeatability and most importantly, no need for additional back and forth clarification before production. This establishes the optimized processes that will become automatic supply chains in the future, with new AM parts being ordered as soon as when a part is marked as broken by a repair team or even based on low inventory levels.

Even for companies that are already producing in small series, the digital inventory helps push parts straight to our Agile MES (Manufacturing Execution System) without needing to touch the ordering system. Either for repeat parts or for on-demand and mass-individualization items.

Fabbaloo: Could all of a company’s parts be part of a digital inventory? Is it only those that can be 3D printed? Or are some infeasible to process?

Dominik Lindenberger: Of course – PLM software has already existed for decades to store and manage digital part data from all part types. Over time, some of these parts may also find their way into our Digital Inventory, but at this point we are choosing to focus just on AM parts because all of the other aspects of our software from file analysis to pricing and production streams are optimized for additive manufacturing.

We intend our systems to be a compliment to existing management systems in companies, to be the software suite for AM and establish clear communication with existing processes. This is why we put so much effort into maintaining our API and creating direct infrastructure connections with security and enterprise software systems. The result is that we are powering AM at some of the biggest OEMs in the world.

Fabbaloo: What happens if a company’s inventory includes parts that are older and don’t have a digital 3D model for them?

Dominik Lindenberger: This is the problem that we built the AM Part Identifier to solve. AMPI takes a set of best-practice algorithms that we then tailor according to the client’s situation. This is important to adapt to unique databases, part submissions protocols and AM targets in each business.

We have built software that takes advantage of existing part data (when available) from PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software. This data usually includes information like size, material-type, supply chain stability, ordering frequency, pricing, etc. Once the algorithms are tailored and tested by our team, the company has a stand-alone software to find additional AM business cases over time. Those parts can then be transformed into digital models for AM, either by the engineers in the company or by the 3YOURMIND AM Services team.

: Your AM Part Identifier can somehow identify candidate designs for a digital inventory. How is this done? Or is it a trade secret?

Dominik Lindenberger: Contrary to popular belief the AM Part Identifier is not a magic box.

We have put a lot of work behind the scenes to establish best-practice algorithms that are specific for certain use cases, industries and even points in the supply chain. Our technical experts then take these templates and tailor them to fit the available data, the internal categorization and the processes that exist in each company. We learned over the years, that even with those strong algorithms in place, the AM expert team and other departments like legal and procurement departments also need to be able to input information to strengthen part data and give better results. So the AM Part Identifier also includes a communication layer in addition to the part analysis. Most recently we began working directly with industry partners like GEFERTEC and Bosch Industrial Additive Manufacturing, among others, to further refine the algorithms for those particular technology types and client needs.

What sets us apart from other consultants in the field is that we have developed the P.R.E.P. methodology (Prepare, Refine, Evaluate, Present) to establish our software module AMPI within the company. The client can then continue following this process to find parts themselves and add additional business case types to the reporting. Even after this first step, we have built a database of assessed parts that remains with the client and are ready for AM production. The software and AM teams then grow this database over time.

Fabbaloo: Do you believe the digital inventory concept will become popular, or even become a standard approach in the future? What might encourage or discourage that from happening?

Dominik Lindenberger: Yes, we think there is no doubt that digital inventories will be a standard part of AM software moving forward. This will go hand-in-hand with scaling AM use cases.

Digital inventories have inherent advantages over traditional stock inventories for lower demand parts and the “long tail” of spare parts. In automotive spare parts, for example, the first years after a model is released, the demand for replacement parts is high but with every five year period, there are significantly less overall demand for those parts. When the demand falls to a certain point, those parts can be transitioned into a digital inventory.

Also important to note is that in a digital inventory, upgrades of spare parts to reflect design changes, part improvements or safety concerns can be done instantly by updating the file in the digital inventory. All parts that are produced afterwards will produce SparePart_v02 instead of v01. We even anticipate scenarios where updating the part in our Digital Inventory would trigger the production of the improved machine parts at each location where it is needed to preemptively fix a weakness that could cause a machine outage.

Fabbaloo: What advice would you have for companies today that might contemplate moving to a digital inventory in the future? Are there steps that should be taken now?

Dominik Lindenberger: The most important message for companies is that the more they can make the knowledge of their AM team reusable, the faster they will be able to scale. Therefore it is well worth the extra time to initially setup the parts in a digital inventory.

Long term, increasing process and supply chain automation in AM is linked to availability of good part data. In a digital inventory, the quality and usability of parts is guaranteed by AM experts adding the required information alongside that part, i.e. part characteristics, part requirements, etc. That full package of verified part data can be sent directly to production by anyone within the organization. The better that data is captured for each part now, the easier it will be to transition to a digital inventory and process automation in the future.

Fabbaloo: How can 3YOURMIND help a company move to a digital inventory?

Dominik Lindenberger: The AM Part Identifier provides a shortcut to find suitable AM parts and non-digital parts that makes business sense for an AM inventory. Placing them into a digital inventory is the next logical step as the validated AM parts are then available throughout an organization.

Additionally, when orders are placed within 3YOURMIND Agile ERP, the software stores the production settings, the part requirements and communication with production engineers about build files, orientation, etc. That is already defining the parts to be prepared for repeat production and which can be added to the Digital Inventory with a click.


By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!