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SAP Distributed Manufacturing opens up a 3D printing network

SAP Distributed Manufacturing is a new network that connects design and procurement teams with 3D print service providers, making it easier to print products on demand.

With the launch of SAP Distributed Manufacturing, SAP wants to make it much easier for companies to print products...

on demand.

The new cloud application creates a collaborative network that connects engineering design and procurement teams with 3D printing service providers, according to Hans Thalbauer, SAP's senior vice president for digital supply chain and internet of things (IoT). The network enables companies to design parts or products, figure out costs and source materials, then 3D-print the products -- all in a seamless process.

"The whole idea is to be very flexible; it can be a prototype, but it can also be mass production," Thalbauer said. "It creates an environment where the manufacturer can decide if they want to produce it in-house or use an outside service, and also calculate the cost and make the correct decision."

A fast way to establish connections

A small company, for example, might want to use the service to design and 3D-print a prototype for a new product, Thalbauer said. They could use the application to find out who provides the 3D printing service, and then bring them on board as a supplier. And, from there, they can calculate costs and establish the connections to send the information back and forth to the 3D printing service.

"It also enables you to immediately connect into the sales and procurement process, and enables you to have a digitized inventory where you can produce individualized products on the fly, more or less. And these processes will become more and more standard because of the speed and the individualization of products," Thalbauer said. "Consumers want to have personalized products, and at the same time, you want to deliver very fast, so this kind of distributed manufacturing environment is the key. We see companies not just using 3D printing for prototyping, but more and more in the production process -- either embedded or with service providers."

SAP Distributed Manufacturing is part of the SAP Leonardo portfolio of IoT-related products and services, and it's integrated with SAP S/4HANA Cloud. There are more than 45 participating customers and service providers, including UPS, HP Inc. and Stratasys.

SAP Distributed Manufacturing taps into a growing ecosystem of 3D printing providers, Thalbauer said.

"There are already huge service providers who have these printing farms and in all the regions around the world, and they are connected with the logistics networks like UPS," he said.  "We're seeing these kinds of combinations; we see specialized printing farms, and you not only have the printing service, but they're also delivering in a fast way."

Integrating 3D printing services seamlessly

One of the participants, Jabil, is one of the largest contract manufacturers in the world. The company makes products for the top 200 brands, including Apple, Cisco, HP Inc. and GE. Jabil has integrated its 3D printing systems for manufacturing into the SAP Distributed Manufacturing network.

Jabil started out as a circuit board assembler. Now, it makes molded plastic goods and handles metals processing for products such as the housing units for mobile phones, and 3D printing is becoming a larger part of its manufacturing process, according to John Dulchinos, vice president of global automation and 3D printing at Jabil, based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"We've been doing 3D printing for a number of years as a prototyping and accelerated engineering tool," Dulchinos said. "Over the last two and a half years, we have made a substantial investment in capabilities around additive manufacturing for end-use parts and for a host of manufacturing aids, like fixtures and jigs, to make our factories more flexible."

A longtime SAP customer, Jabil is co-innovating as both customer and partner with SAP to create end-to-end industrial digital manufacturing with real-time visibility to the machine level on the production floor.

"From our side, we deploy 3D printers across many of our sites. And we've created a highly interconnected, cloud-based print server software that allows our engineers to have visibility to every printer around the world," Dulchinos said. "This is integrated into the SAP platform, so it can have seamless integration from their information systems right to our printers."

This has made the 3D printing process more flexible and accessible.

"Today, 3D printing is largely a manual process from engineer to printer, so this is a first step toward creating a more automated data system that allows us to start streamlining the information flow and the management of assets," Dulchinos said. "Ultimately, we can share information more seamlessly and we can run a more highly optimized factory."

Certification for 3D printing

The SAP Distributed Manufacturing network includes companies that provide services that are crucial in 3D printing becoming a more standard part of manufacturing. For example, Tuv Nord Systems, a provider of technical services for manufacturing in Germany, offers ISO 9001 certification that has been adapted for distributed manufacturing by auditing and certifying the processes of the 3D printing service providers in the SAP Distributed Manufacturing network.

"For customers, it's enormously important that the manufactured components should be of consistently high quality so that they can be safely and reliably used," said Ulf Theike, general manager of Tuv Nord Systems, in a press release. "To this end, demonstrably reliable processes and certification from trusted providers provide assurance that customers require."

Next Steps

The state of the 3D printing industry is strong, with investment from large corporations and new innovations.

SAP and APWorks partner on software and services to make 3D printing more viable in manufacturing.

Three-dimensional printing projects abound in the Netherlands, from canal bridges to bicycles to ship components and buildings.

Dig Deeper on SAP trends, strategy and ERP market share

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