Flexible manufacturing is the antidote to the kind of generic mass production that has become so much a part of our society over the last century. Demand is growing for individualized, personalized products that allow people to express themselves or to fulfill very specific needs, and 3D printing is helping to fulfill that need. Clusters of 3D printers, or 3D printer farms, are growing in popularity as a way to use 3D printing for small batch manufacturing, from one to a few thousand products, and this is the essence of flexible manufacturing. The key is flexibility – in the colors and materials used, in the parallel production of parts of different materials, and the parallel production of different batch sizes.
“The smart factory is a flexible system that can self-optimize performance across a broader network, self-adapt to and learn from new conditions in real or near-real time, and autonomously run entire production processes…The concept of adopting and implementing a smart factory solution can feel complicated, even insurmountable. However, rapid technology changes and trends have made the shift toward a more flexible, adaptive production system almost an imperative for manufacturers who wish to either remain competitive or disrupt their competition.”