Mobile Smart Factories Seek to 3D Print Wherever, Whenever

Bionic Production GmBH has developed a very interesting initiative dubbed the Mobile Smart Factory, a modular shipping container-based production site, equipped with 3D printing devices to provide real-time and onsite  manufacturing solutions. Johannes Schmidt from Bionic Production takes us through the Mobile Smart Factory concept.

The Mobile Smart Factory is a very interesting and game changing initiative in additive manufacturing. Can you please take us through its concept and what it’s all about?

As you know, spare parts management is a critical element to achieve a profitable business operation. The main challenges are the uncertainty and volatility of demand, the diversity of items, geographically distributed markets and customers´ high expectations on availability and responsiveness. With our Mobile Smart Factory, we have developed a production system to optimize spare parts management, even in remote geographic locations with often-limited logistics capabilities.

The Mobile Smart Factory is a modular container factory equipped with 3D printing devices to provide flexible and reliable production capacities wherever needed. It enables a cost-efficient and fast supply of metal and plastic spare parts on site. Across a variety of industries, companies can significantly shorten spare parts lead times and reduce the need for cost-intensive storage space. At the same time, logistics efforts and cost can be reduced by shifting from a make-to-stock to a make-to-order approach. This also leads to a reduced risk of extremely often cost-intensive production downtime.

Thus, we are convinced that our Mobile Smart Factory will revolutionize the market for mobile 3D printing, as it combines the benefits of additive manufacturing with modular and flexible production systems.

Mobile Smart Factory complete unit.

What are the sizes of the Mobile Smart Factory and how many machines does it accommodate. Also, what materials are used in this concept?

The overall system consists of two standard, weather-resistant CNC 20 ft. containers: one operating and one production unit. Using standard shipping containers has the advantage that the Mobile Smart Factory can be relocated easily via truck, railway or ship. Furthermore, production capacities can be expanded fast and with modest effort.

The Mobile Smart Factory is equipped with a hybrid machine from METROM that combines a Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) module with a milling and drilling unit for component production. WAAM is particularly suitable for mobile 3D printing, since it offers a high application rate and a large building space. In addition, a high variety of materials (virtually all weldable wires) can be used. We have also integrated a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer to produce polymer parts on site.

Mobile Smart Factory Additive Manufacturing machine 3D METROM

For reverse engineering and the design of  components, portable handheld scanners are used. All digital files are directly transferred and stored in the Mobile Smart Factory´s virtual / cloud storage and can be printed on-demand.

Can a client customize material and machine choice when using your factory concept?

To satisfy our clients’ unique needs, each Mobile Smart Factory will be customized concerning process, technology, equipment and even design. For example, we can provide a Mobile Smart Factory with metal and polymer 3D printing technology, as well as only metal or polymer. The decision as to which system is more suitable for a customer depends on the available product portfolio.

We can also provide the Mobile Smart Factory in different degrees of automation. This is important since many countries still struggle with a shortage of skilled AM workers and mechanical engineers and thus require an easy to operate, automated system. Currently, we also develop concepts for the external, remote operation of the Mobile Smart Factory. One possible option is that 3D scan data can be transferred to our company and the design of the 3D model will be carried out by ourselves.

We therefore deal with all customer requirements individually and develop the optimum solution in close cooperation with each customer.

You have recently partnered with TiziriTech from South Africa to penetrate the African landscape. What’s your view with this partnership when looking at the potential of the Smart Factory in the African AM sector?

We see great opportunities in Africa for the Mobile Smart Factory. The fact that it can be used at remote locations makes it a viable option for the production of components and spare parts in many industries across the continent. These include industries such as mining, power generation, agriculture, railways, maritime, oil & gas, to name a few. We are also excited about the possibility of using the Mobile Smart Factory for skills development, even in remote locations.

We look forward to working with TiziriTech as our partners in Africa. They have proven themselves to have a good understanding of the African markets and they have built strong networks that they can use to introduce the Mobile Smart Factory to the key stakeholders.

In the interest of the readers, what are the basic steps for one to get a Mobile Smart Factory?

In principle, the Mobile Smart Factory can be purchased or leased from Bionic Production GmbH, while the first Mobile Smart Factories can be delivered from November 2020. We also install the Mobile Smart Factory and give an operation training session on site at the customer’s premises. This also includes the preparation of a roll-out concept for the Mobile Smart Factory.

However, we are aware that the Mobile Smart Factory is highly innovative product. Therefore, we also offer the first customers a rough feasibility and business case study to identify suitable and printable parts and assess the economic and technical potential of the Mobile Smart Factory. All an interested party has to do for this is to sign our Letter of Intent.

Finally, the question everyone who gets interested is the price guide of the Factory. Will you be in a position to give indicative prices?

As explained above, each Mobile Smart Factory will be individually customized for each of our client. This makes it quite difficult to give an indicative price. As rough orientation, however, the basic Mobile Smart Factory system with metal and polymer printing is in the range from EUR 1.5 m – EUR 2 m, while a pure polymer systems costs between EUR 300,000 – 350,000. This is probably the most cost-effective mini-factory in the market.

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