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What Role Does 3D Printing Play in Lean Manufacturing?


At its core, lean manufacturing focuses on reducing waste throughout a manufacturing system. As technology evolves, we see more opportunities to streamline the manufacturing process. These more advanced production lines have greater flexibility and are more reactive to changes in demand. 3D printing introduces a number of new avenues and tools for engineers to simplify the design, manufacturing, and storage of parts.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is a school of thought focusing on improving efficiency through reduction of waste. There are many similar process improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma, but they may place higher focus on improving other areas of the manufacturing process. For example, Six Sigma contains many of the same techniques and methods for identifying areas of improvement, but with the focus of reducing deviations from the product specifications. Basically, improving efficiency through more accurate process output. Lean manufacturing differs in that it focuses on reducing bottlenecks and improving logistics of manufacturing.

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Since the creation of the first manufacturing line, the concept of lean manufacturing has developed and refined as the tools available expand. Key developers of the lean methodology such as Henry Ford and Taiichi Ohno were revolutionary for their time by developing a systematic approach to integrating cutting-edge technology to build efficient and intelligent manufacturing lines. In general, the majority of techniques within lean manufacturing focus on condensing each step of the process into manageable, inspectable and improvable chunks.

Waste Within Manufacturing

Within the Lean school of thought, waste is often separated into a number of categories: Defects, Over-Production, Waiting, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Extra-Processing. Condensed down, lean manufacturing looks to create a predictable, consistent manufacturing system that keeps product moving efficiently at all times. Each instance of waste contributes to bottle necks and increases the cost of manufacturing a product. As technology improves, it becomes easier to implement more advanced automation and intelligence into our manufacturing lines.

How does 3D printing simplify the process?

3D printing takes advantage of the nature of cyber-physical manufacturing systems and additive manufacturing techniques to dramatically reduce the amount of waste a production line creates. As an additive process, 3D printing allows for greater reduction in amounts of material used and more complex designs that are more closely tailored to their requirements. From a logistical standpoint, a digital inventory has dramatic impact getting closer to a “just-in-time” manufacturing system by reducing the amount of time required to get a part from a production line.

Some other key areas that 3D printing plays a role in reducing waste:


Little-to-no tooling cost when switching between parts.

There is no need to create new sets of fixturing when creating a new part on a 3D printer. In addition, there is no need to maintain an inventory of those fixtures.

metal 3D printed parts

Reduction of part complexity.

3D printing is able to create complex geometry that is impossible with subtractive techniques. Requiring multiple parts and assembly.

Greater integration into ERP, Quality, and Inventory Management solutions allow parts to be produced more reactively and with greater visibility into defects.

Faster prototyping during R&D.

Time to receive and test a prototype can be a significant source of waste.


This is just the start for how companies can use 3D printing in lean manufacturing. Take a look at a number of our case studies to get some ideas about the different ways companies are using Markforged 3D printers to reduce waste.

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