Bringing Brands Closer to Consumers Through Automation
Manufacturing is at a major crossroads. Competition is fiercer than ever - mass-market brands are up against pure-play online start-ups with the ability to respond quickly to trends and get product to market/consumers within weeks. Consumer demand is becoming increasingly difficult to predict as apparel companies have lost much of their clout in trendsetting, which is now coming from individual influencers and consumers themselves.
Chuck Sanson, Flowbuilt Director of Business Development, talks about how Flowbuilt is saving resources (time, materials, etc.) to bring brands closer to their consumers.
Leading the charge of automation is an important aspect of Flowbuilt. We wouldn’t be able to do what we can do, nor have made progress the we’ve been able to make, if we did it the same way that traditional footwear manufacturing or traditional 3D printing had been done. The only way we can operate, and the only way we can really add tremendous value to the supply chain, is through the use of automation.
Shortening the distance - both figuratively and literally - between the manufacturing of a product and its end consumer, is where we can win. To do so, we rely on automation. A great example of this approach being applied in real-time is the rapid creation of the tools needed to physically build footwear.
Flowbuilt’s ability to 3D print tooling at our facility where the products are being manufactured is a massive benefit. The creation of 3D printed molds and parts isn’t necessarily unique, a lot of companies have attempted to do it. But in our case we’re taking 3D printing and making it a part of our “traditional” manufacturing method.
Right off the bat, the nylon material we use is 80% recycled and 20% virgin material which is a totally unique aspect of the industry. On top of that, Flowbuilt has figured out how to use more than just nylon in our 3D printing. We can produce a hybrid with both nylon and aluminum together. More than that, we can use aluminum without needing to continually cut it out of a larger aluminum block. We can and do reuse our aluminum pieces over and over and the proprietary nature of how we combine the two allows us to create tooling for brands that can be used repetitively.
Nylon can, and will, warp over time which is why the traditional method of using aluminium has been the norm. But now that we have unlocked rapid creation with 3D printing, we can combine the two [nylon + aluminum] to get the best of both worlds, thereby dramatically reducing the traditional 6-week-timeline.
Another benefit? Let’s say you went the traditional route and had an aluminum mold created. Now you have it in-hand, that’s it. Because of the supply chain and the sub-suppliers involved, you can’t make any additional, last-minute changes. So, if your logo is put on upside down or perhaps the parting line isn’t in the right place, even just a few millimeters off, you’re stuck with what you received. Otherwise, you have to start the whole 6-week process over again.
But with Flowbuilt, if there are minor changes to be made, they can happen with relative ease and much faster. We also see that designers are able to identify potential changes throughout the process because they’re so much closer to the operation.
By bringing the multiple pieces of the manufacturing process together, again literally and figuratively, you’re increasing your chance of getting the right product into your customer’s hands in a timely manner.