Impact on production processes

Using computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacture (CAM) in a manufacturing setting

Designers need to give consideration to how they design a product by thinking about what quantity it is produced in and the method of production, as well as the impact of these.

Economies of scale

Companies will produce products on a number of different scales described as one-off, batch or mass production.

ScaleAdvantagesDisadvantages
One-off - bespoke and handcrafted items, eg a handcrafted chairHigher quality itemTakes longer to make and is higher in price, requires highly skilled worker
Batch - produced in limited quantities, eg a limited edition carUses repetition to reduce costs, made by moderately skilled workers, can be desirable for consumers as they are limitedCan still be reasonably high in price, if an error is made it affects the whole batch
Mass - produced in vast quantities, eg mobile phonesProducts are made very quickly, lower skilled level of worker neededHigh cost to set up machinery, if an error is made production has to be stopped
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A company will seek to reduce the average cost per product whilst increasing the output produced - this is known as economies of scale.

Disruptive technologies

A disruptive technology is one that displaces an existing technology and creates a new area of industry. Examples of disruptive technologies in the past have been the Personal Computer (PC) displacing the typewriter, or smartphones displacing older cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDA).

3D printing

3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology. This printing process works by reading a 3D computer aided design (CAD) file created on a computer, which is ‘broken’ into many small layers - each around 0.3 mm in height. The 3D printer prints each thin layer by extruding heated plastic, which cools quickly. It starts printing at the bottom and works its way up, printing the top layer last.

3D printers can be used in the development of new products, increasing prototyping times. 3D printers can be used to manufacture ceramic cups, metal machine parts, toy models and can even be used to make bespoke pancakes. Developments are currently being made to see if this process can be used to replicate body parts.

A yellow plastic model of a prosthetic hand being 3D printed.
3D printing
Advantages of 3D printingDisadvantages of 3D printing
Runs straight from a computer file and produces an exact copy of the drawingProduction times can be slow
Costs of machines are lowErrors can occur in instances where the design is very intricate or is poorly supported due to a top-heavy design

As it is still early in its development, it is not yet clear which technologies will be displaced long-term, but 3D printing is now being used in prototyping and as an alternative to other computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacture (CAM) methods, such as computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling.

Robotics

The use of robots is one part of automation in mass manufacture. Robotics use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to collect information and improve the performance of a particular procedure. Robotics has proven popular because of their ability to increase efficiency and handle harmful materials that humans can't, but they are very expensive to install. The result of installing robotics in production factories is that many manually skilled workers’ jobs have been displaced, although it has created employment opportunities for those skilled at programming and monitoring the robots that have been installed. Robotics has become more common as more complex tasks can be repeated, whilst long-term costs of manufacture can be reduced.

Multiple yellow robot arms working on building a silver car in a manufacturing plant.