Key benefits of MES software for additive manufacturing workflows
Additive MES software provides several benefits, from the optimization of material and machine resources to the end-to-end traceability of printed parts.
Some benefits concern only the manufacturer; the maximization of throughput, for example, results in businesses processing more production jobs and increasing their profitability. Other benefits concern the customer as well as the manufacturer, either by directly improving the end product or by providing information and transparency to both parties.
Different additive MES solutions may put more or less emphasis on certain benefits depending on what kind of end-user they are designed for.
This guide discusses the key benefits of MES for AM (additive manufacturing). The basics of additive MES and current market-leading solutions are covered in separate articles.
Connection and standardization
One function of a manufacturing execution system is to bring together and facilitate communication between disparate elements of the manufacturing process.
Most additive MES software is built to connect processes like order management, machine management, and post-processing, using standards and protocols to ensure smooth communication between each step.
Users benefit from grouping these separate processes under one piece of software, rather than having to move information manually between different stages through emails, vocal instructions, or other means.
Here’s a brief example of highly advanced automation with AM-Flow:
Optimization of resources
Additive MES software uses inbuilt algorithms to process orders and assign print jobs to machines. Decisions may be calculated based on factors like order date, job priority, machine availability, material availability, and print bed size.
Working without MES requires these jobs to be assigned based on human calculations, or worse, arbitrarily.
Good MES software ensures jobs are completed efficiently, using the least possible power and printing materials, leading to cost savings.
Maximization of throughput
An efficient AM workflow optimized by MES software allows users to maximize productivity, completing more jobs in less time.
This can be facilitated by analytics tools, which help users identify and eliminate bottlenecks in their workflows such as overburdened 3D printers, inspection stations, or logistics areas.
Strength and weakness identification
Most additive MES software can keep a permanent record of production data. Over time, this can be useful for pinpointing high-performing and low-performing hardware systems and moving towards data-led production strategies.
For example, MES software can keep an accurate log of print failures; machines with an above-average failure rate can then be given maintenance, replaced altogether, or simply used less frequently.
Control over production
An additive MES provides end-to-end control over the production process from a single location, allowing users to execute strategies instantly.
This also allows users to seamlessly make dramatic shifts in production strategy based on market trends, which is a core principle of agile manufacturing.
Comprehensive additive MES solutions are important for scaling up production to handle more orders across multiple machines.
Additionally, suites are often compatible with a range of third-party hardware. This means users can, for example, schedule jobs for Multi Jet Fusion systems in one room and Selective Laser Sintering systems in another.
MES software also provides a pathway to Industry 4.0, where 3D printers can be digitally linked to other robotic factory equipment.
Additive manufacturing execution software can create a record of a part’s journey from raw material to finished product.
This is beneficial to manufacturers — who can improve their internal organization to increase efficiency — and to customers, who can get a clear picture of the provenance and lifecycle of their parts.
Simplified up-front quotes
Many additive MES solutions incorporate job costing features such as material pricing and instant quotes.
Providing fast responses to customer RFQs can benefit both parties: customers get shorter turnarounds, which gives them the incentive to use the manufacturer’s services.
Here’s an example of how instant quotation works with Xometry:
Accurate delay prediction
Since an additive MES can monitor real-time machine data and keep tabs on scheduled jobs, it can provide a precise estimate of future lead times.
Customers benefit from knowing when their order will arrive, and this reduces the need for ongoing dialogue between the two parties via calls or emails.
Compliance and certification
A well-functioning MES may help manufacturers achieve certification for their products, such as those used in the medical or food industry. The entire product lifecycle can be tracked from inception to shipment without any areas of opacity.