3D printing is about more than printing; a chat with LEO Lane illuminates more in end-to-end workflow opportunity.
This industry moves quickly. 3D printing is picking up its pace as additive manufacturing is increasingly recognized as a viable opportunity for digital manufacturing around the world. Supply chains are shortening, parts are becoming lighter-weight and being created on demand, and collaboration is creating a more involved ecosystem. Most of these aspects are incredibly promising, but questions loom — large among them, the security of that ecosystem.
LEO Lane was established to address just such concerns; they want business to be “DAM smart” (that’s regarding distributed additive manufacturing).
Digital inventory can be addressed with a more secure workflow, ensuring IP protections for proprietary files in the company’s “limited edition object” (LEO) protections. But it’s not just about protecting the file during the 3D printing process itself.
LEO Lane Co-Founder and VP of Business Lee-Bath Nelson shares more of a look into the company’s latest.
“We’re expanding our offering to the full workflow, end to end; it’s not just printing. This is important for consistency,” Nelson told me when we sat down at RAPID + TCT. “Expansion is really about contributing know-how securely. The problem with collaboration is revealing knowledge and sharing it securely without revealing sensitive information.”
We caught up this week on a call to dig further into what that end-to-end workflow focus means for both LEO Lane and the broader 3D printing industry.
The company has had “quite a few developments” since our last sit-down during formnext, Nelson noted: “Most importantly, we have looked at not just procuring IP and consistency for printing, but extending that to the entire workflow. If you think about it, in some cases, problems with consistency are actually not just because of the printing stage, but because of the earlier stages.”
Additive Manufacturing Workflow
As we know, 3D printing isn’t just 3D printing. The print stage is part of the larger process of additive manufacturing.
That process begins with design. Design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) is often where collaboration actively begins, as well, which can mean multiple people dealing with the same file in either the same or different locations. The latter is a major benefit of digital manufacturing — of distributed additive manufacturing — as it lends a much-valued flexibility. And opens the door for IP concerns. These concerns continue past DfAM and into build preparation, as the finalized design is prepped for actual printing, including print bed orientation and nesting concerns.
“As an easy example that lots of people know, think of a bed of metal parts,” Nelson said. “When it comes to their placement on the bed, if you place a full ball of metal somewhere, the parts of metal around it are affected if they’re too close to it: you want a perimeter around it where you don’t print other parts on the bed. Once you’re on the printer printing, it’s too late to change.”
So, she continued, it’s clear that attention needs to be paid to the entire workflow, not just the printing stage.
“You want to convey the instructions, restrictions, rules — whatever you want to call them — to the processing stage leading up to the printing, not just for the printer, which is what we talked about before. That’s where we’ve expanded in the last few months,” she said.
That sense of collaboration comes into play here, as expertise is still often spread across several people in any given workflow; in general, no one person does it all. There’s the customer, the designer, the materials expert, the printer operator, the person doing the post-processing and assembly, the logistics coordinator tracking the parts: you name it.
While ‘many hands make light work’ is a great ethos in production, it does add more layers of needs, communication and security chief among them.
“At every point in the workflow, you can have instructions that increase consistency. It’s all maintained in a way that in the end you’ll get your optimal part,” Nelson continued.
And that is more and more important as processes are becoming more sophisticated and certain uses — think spare parts, jigs and fixtures — are becoming more widespread.
“The other thing you is may have noticed we’re starting to partner with several companies that actually do parts as a workflow, so we can pass on this information to them and make sure it’s enforced properly,” Nelson said.
When security is the name of the game, of course a lot of what’s happening will be staying under wraps. LEO Lane has been forming some important partnerships that, for the most part, they can’t talk about publicly.
One they were able to share is with AMFG. Announced in December, the partnership shows LEO Lane’s dedication to the art of collaboration in this industry. The announcement noted:
“First, the partnership will enhance AMFG’s comprehensive MES system by adding LEO Lane’s best in class security solutions to its offering. These include protecting IP, securing and real-time tracking of digital assets, enforcing control over consistency, quality and quantity of parts and products as part of a secured workflow management system.
Second, LEO Lane’s customers can benefit from AMFG’s end-to-end workflow management solutions, including production scheduling, post-processing scheduling and file preparation tools.”
AMFG is focused on autonomous manufacturing, showcasing the partnership as a natural fit.
In general, the team at LEO Lane see that when it comes to collaboration, “the whole ecosystem is moving in that direction.” This is absolutely a sentiment echoing across the 3D printing industry as a whole — and so a valuable area of strategic focus.
Moving into the far end of this end-to-end workflow is actually getting the physical products resulting from digital manufacturing to their cust
“2019 will be an important year for logistics; it’s an important time for them to see where we are,” Nelson said. “Service providers and the logistics providers have their own kind of expertise, which can be enhancing the customer’s. We allow for the workflow to put more knowledge into the system: it’s very interesting for both the logistics company and service providers who are not your basic get-something-and-print-it places, but have more expertise and are more industrial. There’s the ability of both the customer to bring to them what they know they need and of the service provider with their own knowledge.”
We agreed that the conversation around supply chain in 2019 is very, very different from that just a few years ago — largely in that the conversation is being had. “Shortening the supply chain” has long been a goal with 3D printing, but until recently hasn’t been much of a reality. Growing global digital manufacturing networks from major suppliers are underscoring the seriousness with which the industry is now examining supply chain.
At LEO Lane, it’s not so very new a conversation.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while now, and it’s something that’s gaining momentum,” Nelson said of the supply chain side. “The way I see it — and every organization has its own point of view with a different angle — is you still need to service that part of the organization: it’s part of the ecosystem you’re in. I think supply chain is — I don’t want to say basic, but fundamental, let’s say, for anything that has to do with the parts. It’s super supply chain-driven, os it’s very important to think about the whole process.
“We’re not just concentrating on effectively one of the last steps, which is printing; we also need to look at the entire process and be able to secure that. I think that’s very appreciated by supply chain management.”
If there’s one overwhelming theme from our conversation and from LEO Lane’s overarching business strategy, Nelson summed it up neatly:
“We have to look at it holistically: the better it will be, the faster it will move.”
By extending their basic offering around IP protection and extending it to the entire process, LEO Lane is ensuring that its services are more robust, encompassing more of the full workflow and adding both flexibility and effectiveness.
Via LEO Lane