Looking ahead: 3D printing the digital enterprise

By Peter Gergely, SAP Solutions Architect on

It is 2023. Your R&D department is busy working on your first generation of robots that have embedded 3D printers capable of producing spare parts on the spot and fixing your products autonomously at a customer site.

In the meantime, your organisation hums away nicely using its old school ways. The mechanics can print 85% of the spares they need from their cars, but for better cost effectiveness, they get the spares they need that day delivered in the morning by the drones from a central print shop. Stockpiles for spares have been eliminated since your systems have been integrated with the big international 3D print provider, and now even the remotest locations can be supported with a ‘spares-as-a-service’ offering.

Since the program started, average repair times have been cut in half by eliminating the need for multiple visits if the problem was different than expected. Customer satisfaction has increased considerably and is now what your organisation is known for.

It wasn’t easy to get to this point, but the proof of concept your organisation undertook uncovered all the necessary impediments enabling your ERP system to drive the new processes. It helped you answer basic questions: What printers should we use? Where should we store the drawings? How do we service the printers? How many printers do we need?

But it also enabled you to analyse and tackle the deeper issues: What should be the geographic distribution for the printers – considering different types can print with different raw materials? How do we get the system to decide automatically whether to print locally or get the cheaper mass produced parts delivered? How do we cover remote areas and integrate with the spare parts service provider? How do we operate our network of printers most effectively to ensure they work as one distributed production line, optimizing machine capacity, delivery time and cost, raw material sourcing and consumption?

Getting the ERP system set up correctly, and early, to tackle these issues was central to the project’s success. Key tasks included: upgrading to the latest digitally enabled version that could support IoT technologies; implementing a resource scheduling solution that tightly integrated with purchasing and the work order system; being able to report on the cost of goods sold for each individual printed spare to find the best ways to drive costs down; being able to react to material requirements in real time and manage every site or service technician as its own manufacturing cell. All this from a system that only seven years ago relied on a highly centralized, batch-based supply chain with average delivery time measured in weeks to months.

Making the most out of your SAP investment by ensuring your environment is up to date and ready to bring on new technologies is what we do. Want to know more? Contact us at Oxygen, a DXC Technologies Company and start preparing for the future today.