Faster Steel — And the Innovative Process That Made It Possible

We’re incredibly excited to announce that we’ve reduced 3D printed steel lead times by two days! Now, steel products will ship to our US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand communities in just nine days. For the rest of the world, prints will ship in 10 days. Those are just numbers, but when we reduce lead times, there’s always a deeper story: one of innovation, process improvement, and a tireless commitment to meeting your needs as members of our community.

To bring you steel products, we work with pioneering additive manufacturing company ExOne, based near Pittsburgh, PA. Their binder jetting process for metals (and, incidentally, sand) is unique, making them an invaluable partner. You can learn more about how steel is made here.

To achieve faster lead times, Shapeways and ExOne took a deeply collaborative approach to making the highly complex steel production process more efficient. It all started with breaking down each stage to find space for improvement.

When we began, we knew that there were more than a dozen process steps, both before and after printing, that kept lead times longer. So, we dug in, looking for anywhere we could reduce friction. This started with tracking and analyzing how much time each step took. We found that the largest bottleneck was the pre-production process, where 3D files are downloaded, checked, stilted, and entered into the system. We decided to start the improvement efforts here.

We then mapped out the current process in full detail, from the steps a customer takes to place an order to the work Shapeways engineers do to get the files to ExOne. The other team members also did a deep dive on their respective tasks after receiving the files, including order entry and build planning.

From there, we mapped out the dream state, where complications don’t exist. Having that goal in mind led to specific process improvements we were able to make immediately, like setting up an automatic flow of files from Shapeways to ExOne. There are still improvements that will take effect down the road, and this two-day lead time reduction is only part of a journey toward finding the “speed limit” of this manufacturing process. With deep collaborations like those between Shapeways and ExOne, we’ll get there faster than you think.

Special thanks to Katie Lopez of Shapeways’ Supply Chain team for sharing the steel lead time reduction story with us.

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Editor in Chief, Shapeways Magazine + All Things Content, Shapeways
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