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Impact of Additive Manufacturing on CM

Impact of Additive Manufacturing on CM

I found a really interesting article being shared on LinkedIn:

An Epiphany Of Disruption: GE Additive Chief Explains How 3D Printing Will Upend Manufacturing [1], which I advise you to read if you are interested in the potential of additive manufacturing.

It contains the following quote that got me thinking:

Within 18 months, the team was able to print half of the machine, reducing 900 separate components to just 16, including one segment that previously had different 300 parts. The printed parts were also 40 percent lighter and 60 percent cheaper. “To make these parts the ordinary way, you typically need 10 to 15 suppliers, you have tolerances, you have nuts, bolts, welds and braces,” Ehteshami says. “All of that went away.”

That is really a great achievement and the potential is huge. But what does this mean for Configuration Management?

Well let’s see, for half of the machine you go from 900 to 16 components, in other words a reduction of almost 50% in the number of parts. When you translate this to the amount of documentation, a lot less documentation would be required. In the past you would have a specification per standard component, a drawing per assembly, a bill of material per assembly, a test spec per assembly, transportation specs, master data for all those 900 components and master data for each assembly, etc. Reducing the documents on such a scale will most likely have impact on the number of engineers that are needed. This can be seen as a disadvantage because it could cost jobs, but on the other hand all those engineers could also work on improvements and new business development projects instead.

Figure 1: Assembly of the Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy (AMIE) 3D-Printed house. Source: Flickr – U.S. Department of Energy

From documents to models 

With the introduction of additive manufacturing also Model Based Engineering[2] and therefore Model Based Definition[3] is being adopted, meaning that the (3D) model becomes leading and includes Product Manufacturing Information (PMI). This model will be used throughout the product life cycle and subsequently will render the use of 2D derivatives obsolete. This means that the way product information is documented and used will change significantly. Questions arise about what will be the document when we only have models? How will we assign ownership to models or do you assign ownership to objects in the model? These questions need answers before fully understanding the impact of using models to document product information instead of documents. None the less there are already a couple of things that can be said.

True Impact to CM

This directly leads me to the impact of Additive Manufacturing to Configuration Management. The change process is at the core of configuration management. Part of the change process is the impact analysis, one of the most difficult activities, if not the most difficult activity within the change process. Many companies struggle to really do a good impact analysis especially with the increasing complexity of the products we bring to the market[4]. Try to do an impact analysis on an assembly of about 1800 versus an impact analysis on an assembly of about 900 components. Not just the where used is impacted here, but also dependencies, that are not directly visible in the where used like functional dependencies, are reduced. Also making a prototype for validation can be done a lot faster. So not only you make doing the analysis easier, but you can validate the result a lot faster and therefore reducing the throughput time of getting the change implemented. Assuming this information is modelled correctly and usable for people to do an impact analysis. Does that mean there are no risks to be aware of? No, because with making the model leading, the impact analysis could become more complex as not everyone is equally skilled in understanding models. This requires training and a solid modelling approach based on standards. On the other hand, with the introduction of the model based approach there is an opportunity to facilitate impact analysis a lot better if e.g. functional dependencies are modelled as part of the model the system can help guide users through the process of impact analysis and re-identification.

Implementation Planning

Because there are only about 900 components instead of 1800, making an implementation plan for your change has also become a lot easier. Not to mention that your supply chain will be very different, from its current setup. Because of a drastic reduction in components also a lot less suppliers will be required, which makes your supply chain easier to control. Supply chain planning suddenly became a lot easier to manage. So the feasibility of collaborative supply chain planning has significantly increased, allowing for even more supply chain transparency and control. Fewer components mean fewer steps in the production process, meaning reduced assembly times, with a potential of having a higher throughput. So we now have seen that it will take less time to do an impact analysis, less time to update documentation, less time to validate the changes and less time to procure the required components and less time to produce the assembly. For configuration management this has a huge potential benefit as well, because the throughput for implementing a change has been reduced, also the risk that other changes are going to impact a running change will be reduced as well.


Having fewer components also impacts the maintainability of a product. Fewer components means less complexity and therefore it is easier to maintain, but on the other hand it also means that a larger component/assembly will be required to be a spare part. This can be a downside because a few small components might be cheaper to replace than an entirely printed assembly that used to consist out of 300 components. So when going for additive manufacturing one of the critical stakeholders should be the service department to ensure that requirements for maintainability from both a technical as a cost perspective are taken into account.

Figure 2: Marines learn about 3D Printing. Source: Photo by Cpl. Justin Updegraff – – Public Domain

Note that replacing an assembly could be a lot easier if designed with maintainability in mind than replacing a lot of components. Would it not be great if you just could print the required spare part locally, where you need it? Also if you can print it, obsolescence can become a problem of the past. No need to do a last time buy, you can just print it when you need it or when you expect to need it. For supplier components you might be able to buy the rights to print it yourself.

Status accounting

Status accounting ensures traceability and is therefore a critical part of configuration management. As there are fewer parts to register during production and maintenance, additive manufacturing will have a positive impact to status accounting both from a registration perspective as for the usability of the as-maintained baselines for impact analysis of changes.


One aspect has not yet been discussed, but should not be taken lightly and that is security of the configuration documentation especially the part that contains intellectual property. Because it is digital and you ‘just’ need the right ‘printer’ you could easily print the design. Or you just scan the part to create a model[5]. So how do you ensure your intellectual property is protected? This is a major concern. Configuration management will be impacted by this, because additional measures might be required to secure documentation that contains intellectual property, but this can be solved in a way that doesn’t make the job of a configuration manager impossible.


In summary reducing the number of parts in complex mechanical products by 30%, 40% or even by 50% is absolutely a great step into the future of manufacturing. Reducing documentation, reducing number of suppliers, reducing throughput time and impact analysis, implementation planning and status accounting become easier. But with introduction of additive manufacturing also the introduction of model based engineering and specifically model based definition is a fact, potentially adding to the complexity of the impact analysis or when implemented correctly facilitating impact analysis even better. Bottom line is that the impact of additive manufacturing can have a very positive impact to configuration management, but requires a good strategy based on standards and best practices for the introduction of Model Based Definition and Model Based Engineering. However additive manufacturing is just one capability within the scope of Industry 4.0, the question remains: What is the true impact of Industry 4.0 on configuration management?

This article was first published in the IPX Newsletter 1 June 2017.


[1] Tomas Kellner – “An Epiphany Of Disruption: GE Additive Chief Explains How 3D Printing Will Upend Manufacturing” – 6 March 2017

[2] Robert R. Lipman and Jeremy S. McFarlane – “Exploring Model-Based Engineering Concepts for Additive Manufacturing” – NIST, 2015 Lipman.pdf

[3] M. Alemanni, F. Destefanis, and E. Vezzetti, “Model-based definition design in the product lifecycle management scenario” The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, vol. 52, pp. 1-14, 2011

[4] M. Dullaart – “Impact Analysis and Change Implementation Planning” The Institute for Process Excellence February/March 2017 Newsletter

[5] Tyrone Berger – “3D printing: how to protect intellectual property” – World Economic Forum, 27 November 2014

The author is chair of the Industry 4.0 committee of the IPX Congress formed by cross industry leaders from AGCO – Susanne Lauda, ASML – Martijn Dullaart, Gulfstream – Maxime Gravel, IPX – Joseph Anderson & Todd Egan, and NorthropGrumman – Paul Nelson.

Together they are working on a solution to help answer the following questions: Do you also wonder why Configuration Management never gets mentioned in conjunction with Industry 4.0 or (Industrial) Internet of Things? Would you like to know the impact of Industry 4.0 on CM? What are the risks and opportunities? What will it mean to your CM processes? What requirements should IT tool vendors be made aware of and subsequently support? And what will be the impact to your organization and the people in it? How can you mitigate the risks and how can you prepare your organization to be ready for change?

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