Stephen Dyson discusses how manufacturers could evolve into trusted business consultants

Seeking advice from external consultants is now standard practice for business leaders across all industries, whether they’re in need of guidance on financials, strategic direction, corporate responsibility, cyber-security or political lobbying.

As businesses look to meet the rapidly changing pace of customer demand and deliver their ideas to market faster than ever before, an opportunity opens for manufacturers to act as business consultants. Digital manufacturing companies have already stepped into this role, advising business leaders on the services and technologies that are best suited to their commercial needs.

More than a business benefit
Manufacturing today encompasses much more than just the production of a part. To survive and thrive in today’s competitive climate where customer demand is the key driver, manufacturers themselves must meet the needs of their customers, offering consultancy advice from the outset to the delivery of the finished product.

With the Government announcing in the 2016 Autumn Statement that £2 billion would be invested in R&D each year until 2020, there is a strong impetus for UK manufacturers to generate fresh ideas and innovative solutions to market.

An extension of the customer’s project team
A successful consultant manufacturer can act as an extension of their customer’s project team. By offering digital manufacturing techniques such as CNC machining and 3D printing, both of which offer rapid production times unlike anything previously achievable, they will be in a position to advise on a whole host of services and solutions that will improve the customer’s route to market.

A digital approach to manufacturing requires fewer processing steps and, by offering on-demand production, it can shorten and simplify the global supply chain, thereby creating a more agile and seamless experience for the customer.

3D printing, for example, offers businesses the flexibility to reimagine how parts are designed and manufactured. By removing the costs associated with tooling, and by providing businesses with the option to build ever more complex prototypes, the technique opens up further opportunities for a business to deliver cost savings and increased speed to market.

Primarily associated with prototype production, 3D printing is becoming an increasingly popular option for short production runs. With the ability to simultaneously print multiple components, as well as creating complex, intricate geometrical shapes that demand great dimensional tolerances, using 3D printing to produce prototypes and production parts can be a major benefit to businesses.

Providing valuable consultation
3D printing may not be appropriate for the needs of every business or project, and customers may need to consider the suitability of other solutions. It’s here that manufacturers can advise on the type of digital manufacturing options and technologies that best meet their customer’s project and design requirements.

CNC machining, where computers are used to control high-speed milling and turning tools, is a process which is quietly transforming production processes across a range of industries by delivering a rapid turnaround of parts and prototypes. CNC machining is often the preferred option for businesses looking to produce up to 200 parts, as well as for those designing very small parts.

Whether advising a customer to use CNC machining, 3D printing, or another process entirely, it’s by possessing this kind of specialist knowledge on which service is most economical, scalable and suitable, that will position a manufacturer as an expert consultant to businesses.

As with accountants or lawyers, it will soon be routine for manufacturers to provide honest and in-depth counsel on which service or services will work best for their customers and, by providing such valuable consultation, they will soon come to be regarded as trusted advisors.

Stephen Dyson
Stephen Dyson is head of industry 4.0 at Proto Labs, the world’s fastest digital manufacturing source for custom prototypes and low-volume production parts. The technology-enabled company uses advanced 3D printing, CNC machining and injection moulding technologies to produce parts within days. The result is an unprecedented speed-to-market value for designers and engineers and an on-demand resource throughout a product’s life cycle.