How Sun Tzu’s advice helps drive success in metal 3D printing for production applications.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Sun Tzu was writing about warfare, but he could just as easily have been writing about manufacturing.
Unlike the fail-fast approach popularized by software developers, most manufacturing engineers prefer to build systems that are consistent and reliable. When your cycle times are measured in seconds—or even fractions of a second—it pays to be predictable. Perhaps that’s why manufacturers have been hesitant to treat new processes, like metal 3D printing, as viable for volume production, relegating them instead to prototypes and short runs.
Formulating a manufacturing strategy requires taking as much into account as possible ahead of time and new technologies inherently involve more unknowns than conventional processes. Manufacturing strategies can’t afford to take the Silicon Valley approach, where Murphy’s Law + Iteration = Success.
A good manufacturing strategy must be informed by all of these decisions:
- Capacity: What are you making, what will you use to make it, and how?
- Process: What systems will you employ?
- Facility: What will your factory/organization layout look like?
- Make-or-Buy: What can you do in-house and when will you need to sub-contract?
- Infrastructure: How will you handle planning and control as well as quality assurance?
- Human Resources: What functions and organizational structures do you need?
If we consider each of these decision points as a tactic, Sun Tzu’s aphorism is even more insightful. Just imagine trying to set up a factory without having a broader plan about how it fits into your business. “Noise before defeat” would be an understatement.
By the same token, deploying a manufacturing strategy—in the sense of making a long-range plan to use your manufacturing resources to meet your business objectives—without taking any of these tactics into account would be a slow route to victory indeed, if it ever came at all.
Metal additive manufacturing (AM) illustrates this point with supreme clarity.
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