Strategies for Supporting 3D Printing In ERP

By Rob Jolliffe | May 18, 2022
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This article is a thought experiment on how we might be able to go about changing Business Central standard manufacturing capabilities to handle 3D printing in ERP software systems.

3D printing is a New Concept for manufacturing. It introduces new ideas in scheduling that Erp systems haven't caught up with yet. That's true for Dynamics 365 business Central as well as many competitors.

 Of course the value of  Dynamics 365 Business Central is its capability to be customized.  Business Central gives us an opportunity to make modifications to the system while not breaking the out of the box capabilities.

What Makes 3D Printing in ERP Different Than Regular Manufacturing?

In traditional Manufacturing parts are brought to a machine which then performs an activity (typically removing materials from that part). With 3D printing adding more printers speeds up manufacturing. In traditional manufacturing this is not easy. Adding more CNC machines is difficult to do because most manufacturing requires extra materials such as fixtures and tooling. 

Adding 3D printers is extremely easy to do and requires almost no effort.

Why Does Business Central Not Handle This?

Like most ERP systems, Business Central production assumes parts are scheduled through a series of equipment. Even when parallel processes are used, they are assumed to be different processes and they aren't meant to add more to speed them up.

In some ways 3D printing in ERP is more akin to injection molding than it is to running a CNC machine to make parts one at a time. You're producing parts in multiples at the same time like injection molding. 

In injection molding, it's pretty easy to simulate a mold with a certain number of cavities. If you know how many cavities are available in your mold, you can simply divide the machine cycle time by the number of cavities available. This gives you pieces per second. If the machine cycle takes 20 seconds and there are 10 cavities then you can produce one piece every two seconds.

Since molds don't change often this is pretty easy to manage with standard BOM and Routings.

3D printing in ERP does not work like this.

In 3D printing you are using machines (3D Printers) to produce the parts. You can add and remove these machines very easily to speed up or slow down production. The trouble is that the number of machines you're using effects your scheduling. If you are able to use 10 machines to produce a part, then there are 10 fewer machines to produce other parts.

This is not how cavities in a mold work and therefore the similarity isn't enough to use the same technique.

Some Ideas About Additive Manufacturing with Business Central

So how would we handle 3D printing in ERP with Dynamics 365 business Central? I've been asking myself that question for a little while and I think the best solution is to have the capability to split the manufacturing of the 3D parts so that they can occur on multiple production order lines simultaneously.

 This is almost like a reverse version of a family order.

For instance we could create an item and add a field to the item card called printed item and another called default printers used. These fields could indicate an item is 3D printed and how many printers would normally run a batch of that item. 

Our BOM and routing would be designed so that it was specifically for the printer operation. If you had a predecessor or successor operations they would  need to be part of a multi-level BOM.

When we release the production order we would look at the default printers used and create a production order line for each default printer we've defined. We would allow the planner to change this number on the production order header.    

This production order would now be scheduled on multiple 3D printers simultaneously. Our 3D printers are machine centers under a work center assigned to the production order. 

It might be that we list the printers that are capable of printing this particular item. It could also be that the work center that we use is limited to printers that can print that type of item.

How 3D Printing in ERP Affects Scheduling 

Unlike a regular job that runs on one machine at a time and produces a nice "Gantt chart" view of the schedule, additive manufacturing jobs will run on multiple machines in parallel. The more machines, the shorter the total run time. This won't look nice on a typical Gantt Chart - and frankly I'm unsure how to show it.

It might be better to just see a calendar view - more like you see in Outlook? If you have thoughts about this, feel free to comment or contact us.

If we put aside the graphical view, we would need to see capacity planning at the work center level. If the work center has 20 3D printers - then we'd want to see that all 20 of them are scheduled at one time. This way we could highlight overloaded schedules when we are using more printers than we actually have. 

The out-of-the-box capacity planning and many of the addon scheduling software tools for Business Central  would work with this arrangement. 

It would be ideal if we could quickly add or remove printers and reschedule the job.  it would also be ideal if we could tell the system that these production order lines must be synchronized as regards their schedule. We don't want to have some of them starting earlier than others in order to try and make it fit into a capacity constrained scheduler. In fact, capacity constrained scheduling will fall down in this case.

Conclusion

This article discusses concepts and ways we might be able to handle the scheduling and planning of additive manufacturing in Business Central. If you are thinking about implementing Business Central in an environment where you do 3D printing, Sabre would love to speak to you.

We are interested in speaking to companies that are adding 3D Printing to their manufacturing process so that we can work with them to develop the best possible solution. Please don't hesitate to book a meeting with me to discuss this! You can also email us at info@sabrelimited.com or complete our contact form.

Book a 30 minute meeting with the author, Rob Jolliffe to discuss this article or ask any questions you want.

Rob Jolliffe

Robert has been a Dynamics 365 Business Central consultant since 2008 and a general manufacturing consultant for over 25 years. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto mechanical engineering program where he focused on production engineering. In addition to a deep knowledge of Manufacturing Robert holds a Microsoft Systems Engineer designation and is much less of an expert in Networking and IT infrastructure than he thinks, but is still pretty good. He also has applied his engineering skills to learning programming, and is warned frequently by the professional developers who work for him that he is pretty good, but don't write any code for customers without letting them check it.

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