SAP Taps 3D Printing for Worldwide Distributed Manufacturing
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on February 13, 2017 |

As 3D printing shifts from a prototyping tool to a production technology, manufacturers will be required to find ways to incorporate additive manufacturing (AM) into their existing workflows. From a logistical standpoint, this means having software and management tools that are capable of handling the wide variety of AM processes used and validating and certifying the parts made with those processes.

For this reason, SAP was primed to take advantage of the burgeoning AM market and launched SAP Distributed Manufacturing to help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) integrate 3D printing into their supply chains. ENGINEERING.com spoke with SAP Senior Vice President of Digital Assets and IoT, Gil Perez, to understand how the worldwide logistics giant was able to bring AM into mainstream manufacturing.


Preproduction with SAP

With offices in 130 countries, hundreds of thousands of customers in 190 countries and an annual revenue in the tens of billions of dollars, SAP is familiar with the manufacturing market and the manufacturing market is familiar with SAP.

“If you look through all of the manufacturing segments, SAP is probably there in anywhere between 7 to to 8, to 9 out of 10 of the top companies in each of those verticals. We’re also the largest PLM provider,” Perez said.

SAP enables customers to determine which products make sense for 3D printing. (Image courtesy of SAP.)
SAP enables customers to determine which products make sense for 3D printing. (Image courtesy of SAP.)
Not every manufacturer is familiar with 3D printing, however. Before OEMs even begin 3D printing short run goods, they need to ensure that these parts are suited for the 3D printing process. SAP enables these customers to first determine which components make sense to 3D print.

Perez explained, “We would go to one of our customers, like Sealed Air or HP, and we would go with them through the process of determining, out of all of their parts, which are the right ones to be digitized in order to be 3D printable.”

Once an OEM decides to 3D print a given part, SAP’s preproduction tools help that customer to validate the part, ensure that it meets given specifications and even pursue the proper certification, such as FDAapproval, for that part.

“We have SAP Approval and Collaboration, which allows you to start with a 3D model and goes through the whole process of testing, inspection, quality assurance, etc.,” Perez said. “At the end of this process, you really have a manufacturing instruction package for a specific printer with a specific material that you need in order to get a part that will meet your specifications. This manufacturing package is one that the company will be happy to put their logo on and provide their warranty with.”

It’s at this point that the part gets thrown over the wall to production, which sets about getting the part printed. “It then gets moved into the production aspect and it gets integrated natively into SAP’s manufacturing backend so that you not only have a scalable and standard method for going through the approval process and collaborating with 3D printer companies and material companies, but you also have a scalable and robust method for integrating into your supply chain, into your manufacturing backend.”


SAP Ariba

In 2012, SAP acquired California software and IT service provider Ariba, giving the company a cloud-based procurement network that allows customers to buy, sell and manage finances. With Ariba hooked up to enterprise finance systems, it’s possible for customers to connect with suppliers without the need for dated paper-and-pen methods.

Perez explained that one part of SAP’s entry into 3D printing involves hooking OEMs and 3D printing service providers into the Ariba network. Beginning with a handful of companies—such as Sealed Air, Sculpteo, HP, Jabil, Voxel 8 and others—SAP made it possible to connect OEMs to 3D printing suppliers that can fabricate goods for these customers.

Just as with traditional manufacturing providers, these 3D printing suppliers can produce OEM products. Or, if it makes more sense logistically, they can 3D print these items in house. SAP has also incorporated post-production operations into the workflow so that such procedures as CNC milling for post-processing 3D-printed parts, packaging, assembly, sterilization or applying a finish can be easily managed, as well.

“It’s not only manufacturing processes,” Perez explained. “It’s the processes and capabilities that need to be done in order to be in a scalable and cost-effective manner. If a company now wants to ship 100,000 products that need to be assembled, how can they do it in a scalable manner? It’s fine to do it once or twice with a 3D printer, but how do they do it in a way that would be viable over the long term?”


SAP Distributed Manufacturing

Altogether, this is SAP Distributed Manufacturing. Those familiar with 3D printing may also be aware of the concept of distributed manufacturing, in which goods can be produced ondemand as close to the end use as possible. SAP is currently in the process of building such a model, though it may be some time before true distributed manufacturing is possible.

For SAP, the two primary use cases for distributed manufacturing at this point are for virtualizing inventory and for producing personalized products. In the case of the former, spare parts may be digitized in order to reduce the need for inventory. This also makes it possible to 3D print parts on demand and on location, such as in the defense industry, on the field of battle.

In the case of the latter, 3D printing is ideal for creating parts that require personalization, whether for aesthetics or for medical reasons. Insoles or shoes that are designed based on a customer’s actual foot shape can be 3D-printed on demand.

Perez said that, through SAP’s partnership with UPS, it is now possible to 3D print an item with UPS and have it shipped anywhere in the United States within 24 hours. Otherwise, an OEM might have to connect with a service provider that has the appropriate capabilities in the location closest to delivery. For instance, if an item is going to end up in Australia, it would make the most sense to have a provider in Australia produce the parts.

Perez estimated that it will take another 15 to 20 years before distributed manufacturing will have a significant impact on the existing supply chain. Even when distributed manufacturing has an impact on the overall manufacturing market, Perez suggests that it will only account for a single digit percentage of the overall market.

Although the trend of distributed manufacturing has been in the works for sometime, the SAP story officially goes public this year, when the multinational corporation begins rolling out its 3D printing solution.

To learn more, visit the SAP Distributed Manufacturing website.

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