Micro-factories offer an opportunity for large-scale design

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In January, Fast Radius announced the opening of a micro-factory and software technology center on Goose Island in Chicago. The new Fast Radius facility, its second in Chicago, seeks to build on the company’s successful efforts to move manufacturing from concept to completion. The micro-factory is also located close to MxD, the public-private digital manufacturing consortium. The new facility will produce components for companies across all industries, including automotive, electric vehicles, medical and healthcare devices, and consumer goods.

Bobby Bott, Vice President of Manufacturing at Fast Radius, spoke to Machine Design about the micro-factory concept, the future of additive manufacturing, and the opportunities and limitations of in-factory 3D manufacturing:

machine design: The concept of your micro-factories in Chicago seems to be part test bed, part manufacturing prototype. As you have developed the micro-factory, what are the key elements that have led to improvements in the concept?

Bobby Bott: Over the past five to six years, we’ve perfected our micro-factory manual, and now we’re able to set them up and scale them easily. In building our playbook, we saw the need for facilities to provide customer solutions around safety, quality and cost – so that’s what we created.

We now have several micro-factories in Chicago, with locations in the West Loop and Goose Island, as well as a micro-factory at UPS Worldport headquarters in Kentucky.

Our custom micro-factory solution is a newer offering that allows companies to partner with Fast Radius to design and implement advanced micro-factories. Each plant is designed to meet a customer’s specific component manufacturing and technology needs, while providing access to proprietary software tools that provide visibility and insight into plant and line operations supply.

Our micro-factories will continue to expand around the world, enabling customers to ship parts digitally and produce goods locally where and when they are needed, dramatically reducing waste and improving access.

MARYLAND: The micro-factory combines CNC machining and additive manufacturing. Five years ago, these disciplines seemed at odds with each other. What has changed over the past five years?

BB: Yes, the micro-factories at our Goose Island campus are equipped with CNC machining and additive technologies. We believe that there is no one right manufacturing technology that fits all. Our customers design and manufacture a range of parts, and each technology has its own specialty.

In fact, that’s one of the benefits of our Fast Radius cloud manufacturing platform. Customers can explore different materials and manufacturing technologies, ultimately choosing the best techniques for a given part. Our technology-agnostic approach allows us to deliver the right solution to our customers’ application, and we are constantly evaluating and integrating new features into our platform to expand our offerings.

MARYLAND: Manufacturing has surged over the past 18 months, but the two biggest brakes on manufacturing expansion have been supply chains and staffing. How can micro-factories solve these problems?

BB: The inefficiency of global supply chains today is considerable. We created Fast Radius to bring manufacturing and supply chains into the digital age. We design, manufacture and move objects for the physical world by harnessing the power of the digital world. Cloud manufacturing offers many of the same benefits as just-in-time manufacturing, but with more reliability, durability, and flexibility.

Instead of centralized mega-factories, the micro-factory model is localized, meaning it brings manufacturing production closer to end-user and logistics epicentres. This eliminates both the risks of waste and disruption to the supply chain that we have all seen in transit, tariffs and customs duties.

Micro-factories are also software-based and highly scalable. As our network of micro-factories expands across the globe, we can ship parts digitally and produce parts when and where they are needed, dramatically reducing waste, improving access, and producing locally. It’s a new supply chain paradigm.

MARYLAND: That said, what are the limits of deploying a micro-factory in manufacturing? Are there certain industries that could benefit more from this concept?

BB: Any manufacturer can benefit from a micro-factory. At Fast Radius, our customers who take advantage of our micro-factories come from many diverse industries, including traditional automotive, electric vehicles, medical/healthcare, consumer goods, and aerospace. The value proposition for our customers is centered around creating parts closer to their consumption/assembly, thereby mitigating overseas headaches, supply chain disruptions and tariffs. Customers also benefit from a reduced carbon footprint, improved lead times and production flexibility, whether on demand, up or down, etc.

Of course, in many of these industries mentioned there are certification requirements (such as before a part is installed on an aircraft). Fast Radius has developed a quality management system that our customers can leverage to manufacture certified parts that actually go to the end product from start to finish.

MARYLAND: The new Fast Radius factory in Chicago is very close to MxD. Where are the advantages on both sides of this geography?

BB: MxD was founded on the principle of digital innovation in manufacturing. A goal that finds huge alignment and story with our mission to make new things possible through our cloud-based manufacturing platform. As we are driven by similar goals and attract similar interest to drive the industry forward, we play each other well. Our synergistic locations create a destination for industry and innovation leaders to collaborate together.

MD: 3D printing has gone from simple prototyping to wide adoption and integration across the entire design-to-manufacturing lifecycle. And after?

BB: Additive is one of our current capability pillars and we believe advancements will continue to be made in materials, finish, speed and cost competitiveness. Our goal is to push our capabilities further to serve our new and existing customers with the right manufactured solution: our Cloud Manufacturing Platform. This platform offers the possibility for anyone located anywhere in the world to have access to tools that allow them to better design, manufacture, move and store parts.

We have our current micro-factories, our future aspirations and continuously evaluate our existing offerings as we seek to expand our portfolio capabilities within our cloud manufacturing platform.

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