Can manufacturers be business consultants?

Proto Labs' Damian Hennessey explores the expected trend of consultative manufacturing in 2017 and beyond.

It is standard practice for business leaders to seek advice from external consultants, whether on financials, strategy, corporate responsibility, cyber-security or political lobbying. As modern businesses need each of these aspects to be successful, we see a real opportunity for manufacturers to act as trusted business consultants in 2017 and beyond.

As businesses look to meet the rapid pace of customer demand and take ideas to market faster than ever before, digital manufacturing companies are playing a critical role in making this a reality, advising business leaders on services and techniques best suited to their commercial needs.

It’s not just businesses that benefit from manufacturers adopting an advisory role. To survive and thrive in today’s competitive climate, manufacturers themselves must tailor their solutions and services to the needs of the customer, offering honest feedback and a consultancy role along the way. With the Government recently announcing plans for increased R&D investment, it is the optimum time for UK manufacturers to research, offer and deliver innovative solutions to customers and businesses in general.

Digital manufacturing as the key for strong consultancy

The successful consultant will be considered an extension of a customer’s route to market. For digital manufacturers, this is achieved by offering the latest in digital solutions that produce parts at unprecedented levels of speed and quality. This is where 3D printing, for example, comes into its own.

3D printing offers businesses the flexibility to reimagine how parts are designed and manufactured.  3D printing can remove the costs of tooling, providing businesses with the option to build more complex prototypes, and use different product mixes at all stages of development.

The digital manufacturing approach requires less in the way of processing steps. The fact that it offers on-demand production shortens and simplifies the global supply chain, creating a more agile and seamless customer experience.

What’s more, 3D printing is becoming an increasingly popular option for short production runs. Being able to simultaneously print multiple components is a major benefit to businesses, as is the ability to create intricate, complex geometrical shapes that demand great dimensional tolerances. Legacy systems can therefore be easily replaced, enabling also a reverse engineering experience where required.

But 3D printing may not be suitable for every business, and it’s important to consider the suitability of other digital manufacturing solutions. CNC machining, a process in which computers are used to control high-speed milling and turning tools, is quietly transforming production processes across a range of industries, delivering a rapid turnaround of parts and prototypes.

CNC machining may be more appropriate than 3D printing if a business is looking to produce up to 200 parts rather than 50, as well as for the design of very small parts. It is this kind of niche knowledge on what service is most economical, and scalable, that will position manufacturers as expert consultants to businesses.

Looking to 2017

It will become routine for digital manufacturers to provide in-depth and honest advice on what service (or services) will work best for customers, thereby acting as trusted advisor. The most efficient solution is often more than 3D printing alone, and many businesses may be unaware of the benefits that CNC machining, injection moulding and other digital manufacturing techniques can bring to them. It’s here, where manufacturers provide valuable consult.

Damian Hennessey is the commercial director at Proto Labs

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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