It’s now standard practice for business leaders across all industries to look to external consultants for guidance on the changing pace of customer demand and methods to deliver their ideas to market faster than ever before, says Stephen Dyson.

As a result, an opportunity has arisen for manufacturers to act as business consultants, and some digital manufacturing companies have already stepped into this role, and have begun to advise business leaders on which services and technologies will best suit their commercial needs.

The consulting manufacturer has increased their influence as companies and decision makers recognise that a manufacturer is able to provide solutions beyond the production of a part. In order to survive and thrive in today’s competitive climate, where business is driven by customer demand, manufacturers themselves must be able to tailor their services and solutions to meet their customers’ particular requirements, offering them honest consultancy and feedback along the way from design to delivery of the finished product.

With the Government announcing plans in last year’s Autumn Statement to invest £2 billion in R&D each year until 2020 there is a strong impetus for UK manufacturers to research, offer and deliver increasingly innovative solutions to their customers and to businesses in general.

Recommending the right technique

Acting as a valued consultant, a manufacturer should be considered as an extension of their customer’s project team. By recommending digital manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing and CNC machining, both of which offer levels of speed and quality unlike anything previously available, they will be further trusted to advise on a whole range of services and solutions that will improve the customer’s route to market.

Taking a digital approach to manufacturing will mean a reduction in the number of processing steps, and with on-demand production shortening and simplifying the global supply chain, the customer will ultimately benefit from a more agile and seamless experience.

Using 3D printing technology, for example, will provide businesses with the flexibility to reimagine how parts are designed and manufactured. The technique can remove the costs associated with tooling and, by offering businesses the option to build increasingly complex prototypes, it can deliver even greater cost savings and open up further opportunities to increase their speed to market.

Furthermore, although 3D printing is primarily associated with the production of prototypes, it is becoming increasingly popular for use in short production runs. Able to simultaneously print multiple components as well as having the ability to create intricate, complex geometrical shapes that demand great dimensional tolerances, 3D printing as a means of producing prototypes and production parts can lead to major benefits for businesses.

Possessing specialist knowledge

It is, of course, possible that 3D printing may not be appropriate for the needs of every business or project, and customers may need to consider the suitability of other available solutions. It’s at this point that manufacturers can offer advice on the type of digital manufacturing options and technologies that will best meet their customers’ project and design requirements.

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

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

As with IT consultants, lawyers or accountants, it will soon be commonplace for manufacturers to provide honest and in-depth counsel on which service or services will work best to meet the needs of their customers. By providing such valuable consultation, they will soon come to be regarded as trusted advisors.

Stephen Dyson, head of industry 4.0, Proto Labs