Continuous factory-in-a-box: Customization and sustainability

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Continuous factory-in-a-box: Customization and sustainability

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Continuous factory-in-a-box: Customization and sustainability

Subheading text
The combination of factory-in-a-box and additive manufacturing may shape the future of production.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • August 22, 2023

    Insight highlights

    Factory-in-a-box (FIAB) and additive manufacturing (AM), such as 3D and 4D printing, offer leaner and greener production processes, customized goods, and improved supply chain resilience. This trend can revitalize local economies, reshape job opportunities, and reduce environmental impact. However, it also presents challenges related to job displacement, the need for skills development, and regulatory and intellectual property considerations.

    Continuous factory-in-a-box context

    A "factory-in-a-box" is a self-contained, transportable unit that houses a manufacturing process, needing little external support or utilities. It mirrors the procedures usually conducted in large, regulated manufacturing areas with numerous employees. Using such units only restricts manufacturing capacity by the available floor space, resulting in less investment for expansion and no downtime for construction.

    An example of this manufacturing model is additive manufacturing (AM), including 3D and 4D printing. AM offers customizable, cost-effective solutions and simplifies supply chains. 3D printing builds items layer by layer, while 4D printing uses reactive materials to create objects that can change shape. This technology has been used across sectors - from creating medical devices and metal parts to designing fashion and producing plant-based "meats." 

    The FIAB concept could revolutionize the cell and gene therapy industry, where existing production capabilities, both in-house and at Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations (CDMOs), are falling short of demand. This slowdown is lengthening drug development timelines and restricting opportunities. This portable manufacturing model could significantly streamline the development process and open up new possibilities.

    Companies like 3DQue are developing machines for continuous, autonomous printing, which offers location flexibility and time-saving benefits. Additionally, businesses like Nokia have created transportable factories, and places like Neighborhood 91 in Pittsburgh are developing ecosystems centered around AM. The US government is also encouraging the growth of this sector through initiatives like President Biden's Additive Manufacturing Forward.

    Disruptive impact

    Continuous AM makes the manufacturing process leaner and greener, reducing transportation costs and carbon emissions as goods can be created locally and on demand. It also allows for a high degree of customization without the costs typically associated with bespoke manufacturing. This feature translates into improved supply chain resilience, reduced overheads, and enhanced customer satisfaction for businesses.

    For example, businesses could employ a series of units that produce parts on demand instead of maintaining a massive warehouse to store thousands of different parts. This approach eliminates storage costs, reduces waste, and significantly shortens the time from order to delivery. Similarly, in the medical field, devices and prosthetics could be 3D-printed in hospitals, tailored to individual patients' specifications, improving speed and precision.

    Another benefit of continuous FIAB is that it allows smaller businesses to scale up. Local entrepreneurs can create unique, high-quality goods right in their community, tailored to the specific needs of the market. This strategy could revitalize local economies, foster innovation, and reduce the homogenization that often results from mass production. Furthermore, it can promote sustainable consumption by enabling replacement parts rather than ordering new products. 

    However, FIAB and AM present challenges alongside their advantages. As automation increases, jobs in traditional manufacturing and related supply chains could face significant disruption. Therefore, a proactive approach to retraining and skills development is needed, especially for roles that rely heavily on manual labor. On a brighter note, this transition could generate new opportunities for skilled workers in digital modeling, equipment maintenance, and quality assurance.

    Implications of continuous factory-in-a-box

    Wider implications of continuous factory-in-a-box may include: 

    • Greater social inclusion and cultural diversity as local communities have the opportunity to produce unique goods that reflect their identity and meet their specific needs.
    • Localized production reducing the reliance on global supply chains, making economies more resilient to disruptions, such as natural disasters or political conflicts. 
    • Governments adapting regulations to address the challenges associated with distributed manufacturing, including quality control, intellectual property protection, and fair competition. Additionally, the reshaping of global trade patterns may influence geopolitical dynamics and require new trade agreements.
    • Revitalized rural areas and smaller towns, creating job opportunities and reducing the need for urban migration. In particular, new local retailers may emerge to produce customized goods on demand using in-house 3D printing machinery.
    • New materials and improved printing capabilities unlocking novel applications in industries ranging from aerospace to healthcare. 
    • A decreased demand for traditional manufacturing jobs and an increase in roles related to digital modeling, equipment maintenance, and quality assurance. Retraining and upskilling programs will be crucial to mitigate any potential job displacement.
    • Reduced long-distance transportation of goods resulting in lower carbon emissions and environmental impact. Furthermore, AM can use sustainable materials and repair or refurbish goods.
    • A shift in consumer preferences, with an increased demand for sustainable, unique, tailored goods over mass-produced items.

    Questions to consider

    • If you work in manufacturing, how is your company adopting AM and FIAB?
    • How else might these modular technologies change how goods are produced?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight:

    Smart Manufacturing Accelerator What is Factory in a Box? | Published 20 Jun 2022