Is traditional manufacturing dead yet? Nearly a year has passed since we originally explored this question for the Aerospace Manufacturing Magazine. Over this 12 month period, there have been a plethora of blog posts, articles and news stories that have hailed the innovations and improvements in advance manufacturing. As additive manufacturing and advanced CNC machining continue to develop, traditional methods of manufacturing are becoming increasingly threatened. As these threats continue to mount, we ask the question again – how much longer more traditional methods (like our investment casting process) can stay relevant in modern industry?
Our Sales and Marketing Coordinator (the pen of the original article) reviewed his previous conclusion and proceeded to write his current thoughts, taking into account the progress that is being made with advanced manufacturing and the answers that lie within our own sales pipeline.
Matt’s piece was included in the official show catalogue of Offshore Europe, for those who weren’t able to read the article in print, we have included a transcript below:
IS TRADITIONAL MANUFACTURING DEAD (YET)?
Last year, Matt McGillicuddy, Sales & Marketing Coordinator for Precision Investment Casting, was asked to write an article for the Final Approach feature in the Aerospace Manufacturing Magazine. Having worked in the casting industry for only a short period of time, and having recently had his eyes opened to the wonderful progress being made with advanced manufacturing technologies, he thought it appropriate to explore if and why traditional manufacturing methods still have a place in the future of manufacturing. He here discusses his findings:
I came to the conclusion that although traditional manufacturing processes like investment casting are still relevant in the modern manufacturing industry, it would be remiss of me to presume that they would remain relevant forever. Since penning the article, I have read a plethora of tweets, blog posts, articles and news stories hailing the progress that is being made with advanced manufacturing techniques and how they will shape the factories of the future. These articles will no doubt have some people questioning whether the last nail in traditional manufacturing’s coffin has already been “3D printed” and hammered in. But has it?
Two and a half minutes to midnight
Nearly a year later, I thought it pertinent to explore whether the hands-on traditional manufacturing’s extinction clock might have moved any closer to midnight. Are the advances that have been made thus far in 2017 enough to close the doors of facilities that use “archaic” methods? Is the call for greener, more environmentally friendly manufacturing putting these production methods on the endangered list? Will the desire for “better, faster, cheaper” simply see casting, forging and fabricating fade away?
As I mentioned in my original piece, I work for one of the longest established investment casting manufacturers in Europe, PI Castings. Considering its 5,000-year history, I think that it is fair to say that investment casting falls into the category of “traditional” manufacturing. With this in mind, I think that as a company, we are well-placed to comment on the effect that advanced manufacturing is having on more traditional methods.
It would be disingenuous not to admit that we have noticed a shift in what our customers are expecting and requesting – even in recent history. We have seen an increasing number of requests for computer numerical control (CNC) machined components, 3D printed and sintered prototypes, and for components manufactured in advanced materials. The demand for advanced manufacturing is increasing and we are experiencing this at first-hand. Fortunately, the investments that we have made as a company, along with the partnerships that we have developed, have allowed us to meet the majority of these demands for our customers.
On face value, it would appear that the ever-improving advanced manufacturing technologies are pushing the more traditional working methods to the periphery of what are considered desirable processes. If this was truly the case, we would have experienced a drought when it comes to enquiries for our more traditional casting process. But this has not happened.
There is still a demand for components to be produced through investment casting. Even now, we receive a raft of RFQs that cite investment casting in spite of the other manufacturing processes that we can offer. Through interaction with our customers it is clear that the freedom of design that the process affords, coupled with the quality of the components that it can produce still makes investment casting an attractive prospect for many designers and engineers. When you consider that these qualities are just two of the many benefits the process offers, it is not difficult to see why such an old process is still so sought after when it comes to producing components for new engineering projects.
A one size fits all solution?
The investment casting process (along with all other traditional processes) of course has its limitations, but in some instances these are irrelevant when balanced against the advantages that are offered. Even the most advanced manufacturing processes have their disadvantages; usually centred on cost and design limitations. There is no perfect “one size fits all” manufacturing solution. Depending on the requirement and the nature of the component that needs to be produced, certain manufacturing processes can offer more advantages than others. And yes, in some instances the most advantageous methods are what you would consider traditional manufacturing processes.
If a manufacturing process can meet all the necessary requirements, does it really matter how old it is? Traditional does not mean out-dated, slow or substandard. The fact that these methods have stood the test of time and continue to be requested is proof that they remain relevant and effective.
As the advanced manufacturing technologies continue to develop and improve, they will no doubt become more accessible and advantageous. I don’t profess to know how further development in these areas will effect traditional methods of manufacturing in the future, nor do I have a crystal ball, so I cannot categorically say with any degree of validity that traditional methods will always remain relevant; after all, I am writing this on a laptop, not a typewriter! However, I can say first hand that from where I am sitting, the traditional processes that we offer are still very much in demand. True, this demand may have a finite life expectancy (like the demand for all technologies), and there may very well come a day when traditional manufacturing no longer has a place in modern industry. But that day is not today.
It’s not the end yet!
There you have it. As far as we are concerned, the final nail in the coffin of traditional manufacturing is yet to be “printed”. The STEP file continues to load with every advance that CNC Machining and Additive Manufacturing make, but the print head lies dormant, at least for now.
Want to find out how traditional manufacturing could help with your next project?
Our precision investment casting process is still sought after; especially by those who are looking to realise complex designs whilst maintaining economic viability.
We strongly recommend that you research the benefits that this more traditional method can offer and consider exploring how you can capitalise on them. If you want to have a conversation with one of our engineers about how we can help you meet the requirements of your next project, contact us today.
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If you have any questions about our Investment Casting services, Machining services, Rapid Prototyping services or Low Cost Sourcing services, please make contact with one of our capable engineers and they will provide you with more information