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Can cloud manufacturing really solve key quality issues?

May 2, 2022
Survey says...it most certainly can!

If you’ve ever eagerly opened a shipment only to find several of your parts weren’t made to spec, you’re not alone.

Wanting to understand the challenges faced by engineers, industrial/product designers and procurement professionals when working with manufacturers, Fast Radius surveyed 250 people about their manufacturing and procurement strategies and pain points. Their answers reveal that quality is a top concern.

In fact, 51% of respondents said inconsistent product quality impacted their bottom line in the last 12 months alone, so it’s hardly surprising that there’s a lack of trust in the industry. 52% found it difficult to trust custom manufacturers to deliver the quality they need.

How can product companies avoid these rampant quality issues and have greater confidence that their manufacturing partners will deliver what they need when they need it? The answer can be found in cloud manufacturing.

How cloud manufacturing can help

Manufacturing and delivering high-quality parts has never been easy, but the good news is cloud manufacturing can help solve quality issues in three key ways:

Allowing for in-depth feedback

Designing and developing products takes a lot of hard work—and, often, a lot of communication. Unfortunately, many people find that communicating with their manufacturer takes too long and lengthens their product’s time to market. In fact, 28% of survey respondents felt they spent too much time communicating with manufacturers during their project’s design and development phases—and with good reason. 44% exchanged more than 50 messages with their custom manufacturer to manufacture a single order.

Despite all those messages, 47% of respondents reported rarely—if ever—receiving feedback from their manufacturing partners on part designs, opening the door for everything from tolerance issues to warping to assembly problems. What’s more, a lack of feedback can lead to unnecessarily high costs or lengthy manufacturing timelines, ultimately cutting into companies’ bottom lines.

However, millions of people have recently worked and collaborated from home with the help of modern technology, so we know that communication doesn't have to be difficult. Thanks to cloud manufacturing, manufacturers can provide in-depth, automated feedback on CAD files in the same interface where you will upload and order the part. This increased centralization can simplify and accelerate the feedback process, making it easier to improve part designs.  

Creating a unified digital experience

In cloud manufacturing, the entire process is digitized. Having a single, centralized digital experience:

●      Improves manufacturability: Cloud-manufacturing platforms have sophisticated design for manufacturability (DFM) checks to flag any issues so you can fix them before you get too far in the design process. The centralized interface also allows you to easily communicate with your manufacturer to solve any issues before moving into production.

●      Ensures consistency: Cloud-manufacturing platforms store all necessary information at every stage of a project in order to make parts to spec, so you can rest assured that your products will be up to standard every time you have them made.

●      Simplifies and accelerates iteration and processes: Historically, there has been a sharp divide between the prototyping and production processes. Cloud manufacturing integrates current and historical data, connecting both processes and enabling you to test designs as you go, resolve issues quickly, avoid delays, and create high-quality parts.

Increasing transparency

For many, working with a manufacturing partner means submitting your designs and hoping for the best. Most have little idea what stage of the manufacturing process their parts are in or if they're on track to meet shipping deadlines. Our survey showed engineers, designers and procurement teams crave additional information from their manufacturing partners. Overall, they wished they received quality-control results, but more than half (58%) had so little visibility into their partners' operations that they weren't confident if their manufacturers were transparent about subcontracting.

Cloud manufacturing increases visibility and trust. Instead of waiting for updates from manufacturers that may never come, you can receive updates and insights into partners’ production and quality-control processes. Thanks to Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology, engineers will have enough time to plan for and mitigate the impact of delays or a shortage of quality products whenever quality issues arise in the production process. This is in stark contrast to the 52% of survey respondents who found out about delays or production errors when it was already too late to meet their shipping deadlines.

Manufacturing better products with cloud manufacturing

With the help of cloud manufacturing, antiquated processes that lead to failed or inconsistent parts are a thing of the past. Now, engineers and procurement professionals can trace parts throughout the production process, catch mistakes before they occur, and isolate individual data points in the production cycle to pinpoint what went wrong. From there, they can take corrective action and prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. It also allows for increased transparency, more effective communication, and a single, centralized, accessible source of truth—all of which lead to better quality products.

It’s clear that cloud manufacturing is the future. Companies that adopt cloud manufacturing now will be able to consistently produce quality products, remain agile, and stay one step ahead of the competition, leaving those who don’t follow suit scrambling to keep up.

By John Nanry, Fast Radius co-founder and chief manufacturing officer