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This post was written by Ian Ferguson, SLS Engineering Lead of Formula Labs

It was the end of January 2020 when we first got a call from our factory in Shenzhen, China that the government was shutting down facilities due to the spread of an unknown virus.

We were ready for a two week off. Our supply chain was in a futile position to enable our customers to go offline flight to our factory without affecting the delivery of our printers and resins. We were ready for those two weeks, but no one could be ready for that unknown virus, COVID-19, not just for weeks, but for months to keep the world completely off.

No company was in a good position to shut down operations indefinitely, but it was a particularly bad time for us. In addition to just ensuring the ongoing production of our current product lineup, we were also in the midst of launching two new flagship printers, the Form 3L and Fuse 1, under normal circumstances, which would include the constant presence of design and manufacturing engineers. Factory working together with contract manufacturers to run continuous tests, eliminate problems and increase production. We never tried to handle this essential process remotely and, obviously, there was uncertainty about what we could do.

For product teams, the launch of these new printers and various new resins did not address the logistical problems caused by the new routine of remote work. For a good part of a decade we were forced to rethink and rethink the processes and workflows we had.

And that’s what we did. By digitally converting workflows and strategies into more hands earlier, we were able to meet our production goals and build more efficiency along the way. Here are some of the things we learned in the past year that we will continue long after the epidemic is over.

Digitizing our workflow

Historically, we have been very deliberate about spending time and money to send team members to our factories to market our products. Sending dozens of engineers and product designers from around the world to oversee the production process is not easy (or inexpensive).

Going virtual during the epidemic showed us that the same quality of work can be achieved individually on the zoom call and manufacturing line. By using remote collaboration tools, we saved a lot of time and money by not sending engineers around the world.

Beyond just a list of video calls and collaborative work in Asana, we also implemented 24/7 webcams to better monitor the product. Engineers could call in those webcasts to see what’s going on at any time. This enables our team to take a similar approach to our work without the need to take shoes off the ground in the factory.

The team uses On Nush, a cloud-based design collaboration software designed to tweak remote design. With Onshape, sharing designs for specific parts in terms of the whole assembly was an easy and safe way to spend less time on technical drawings.

Our team went beyond improving how we collaborated – we also digitized how we tested our products. During the epidemic, FormLabs created its own manufacturing line of software to perform calibration tests. The software also uploads all the data that comes back from these tests to the software cloud. This allows FormaLabs to track the status of an individual printer in real-time, detect remote issues and debug without problems.

The calibration steps we take are a big part of our secret sauce that keeps our printers working. After analyzing this data we solve problems by regularly “secretly” updating the code by connecting to a remote printer on the Internet, fixing files on the printer that may be incorrect for some reason, or grabbing data that did not create it in the cloud. Should.

We had to feed our own dog

Fuse 1 is a complex machine that requires hundreds of custom components to operate. When the supply chain crumbled, we faced a common hurdle among our customers: we needed unique parts, but no way to get them manufactured.

Naturally, we turned to 3D printing for designing, testing and manufacturing these custom parts. In fact, we turned to Fuse 1 ourselves. Dozens of fuse 1 interior components – including sensor covers, door handles and more – were built on early versions of Fuse 1.

We didn’t need an epidemic to know that 3D printing is a powerful way to prototype and ultimately produce custom parts for end use, but it helped us build a new level of empathy with our customers. It also helped us integrate our own technology into our product design and manufacturing process more thoroughly than ever before.

Looking forward

No one could be prepared for what was for the world last year. Despite the ups and downs, we were able to stay agile and focus on our mission to advance our goals, and ultimately accomplish that, including bringing our industry-leading 3D printers to market. What we have learned in the past year will continue to improve the impact and workflow of our product development when life returns to “normal”.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we have learned is that agility and flexibility are the hallmarks of an resilient team. Fostering these values ​​in the company’s culture ensures that whatever the world throws at us, we will continue to remove it and deliver it to our customers.

FormLabs is expanding the digital access to anyone, so anyone can create anything. Headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts, with offices in Germany, Japan, China, Singapore, Hungary and North Carolina, FormLabs is a professional 3D printer of choice for engineers, designers, manufacturers and decision makers around the world. Formlab products include Form 3, Form 3B, Form 3L, and Form 3BL, powered by the advanced form of Form 3BL, stereolithography (SLA) – Low Force Stereolithography (LFS) ™ 3D printing, Form Wash and Form Cure. Post-processing solutions, Fuse 1 SLS 3D printers and Form Cell manufacturing solutions. By offering its factory solutions for industrial industrial users, FormLabs provides tomorrow’s factories with the flexibility and versatility needed to meet the demands of demanding industrial applications. FormLabs also develops its own suite of high-performance content that continues to push the boundaries for 3D printing, as well as the best-in-class 3D printing software. Visit formlabs.com for more information.

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