In the year 2007, I had the pleasure to work with Torbjörn Danielsson and Kare Folkeson, from Virtual Manufacturing, in the design of a new factory line and the industrialization of a new clean tech product. At that time, I was in charge of the design and construction of the new factory of a Swedish/Spanish company called ClimateWell. It was a dis­cov­er­y for me to see how these two Swedish col­leagues were using vir­tual design tools to 3D repli­cate the line lay-out and sim­u­late the man­u­fac­tur­ing workflow. The set of software tools they used, ranged from Catia and Delmia to Avix and robot programming.

Virtual robot

Suppliers of equipment, like Kuka, normally, provide their clients with 3D virtual models in Catia of their industrial robots. This service allowed us to replicate and test the performance of the different robots of their portfolio in our virtual factory, facilitating an informed and risk-reduced purchase.

Two months ago, I came across this video from SpaceXchannel, where the admired Elon Musk, explains how virtual design is used in Space X. It showed how they create, manipulate and print in virtual 3D some of the rocket parts that they need, all at once. This process accelerates enormously the design-manufacturing workflow, allowing them to move directly from the conception of an idea to the factory floor, in one step. In particular, I enjoyed the cost-effective use of the 3D metal printing which I had not seen before. In my opinion, if this approach was generalized, it could booster local manufacturing in Western countries. The design and manufacturing processes could become spectacularly efficient.

To summarize, these quick design and manufacturing processes allow us to:

1.) Design: even at home, for exam­ple, with SketchUp. Or 3D scanning any piece to repli­cate. Most of the commercial 3D print­ers, are called repli­ca­tors, because they are also able to 3D scan.

2.) 3D print: Maker­Bot, or many others, to 3D print our own designs at home. Alter­na­tively, we can use 3D print­ing ser­vices pro­vided by a local com­pany in our town. In France we have 3Dhubs. Other large cor­po­ra­tions as UPS and Sta­ples are plan­ning big scale moves into this field in the USA.

Will this advanced 3D design and print­ing return the man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs to Europe and the USA?

Are our schools and universities delivering the up-to-date education needed to catch up with current economic challenges?

Most prob­a­bly, many actions are needed to improve our edu­ca­tional sys­tem. In par­tic­u­lar, it needs more flex­i­bil­ity in order to adapt to new trends and knowl­edge from the industry. This may not an easy task, but it is needed to recover the lost jobs in Western economies.