Factories looking to maximize efficiency and keep costs low may choose a near net shape manufacturing strategy. Under a near net shape plan, the manufacturer aims to produce components that are as close to their finished state as possible. For example, a company that produces solid metal fasteners will simplify production to complete the fastener in as few steps as possible. Rather than start with a solid block of metal and use grinding and milling techniques to form and shape the fastener, the factory will likely create a die to cast the finished product in a single step.
Near net shape manufacturing can be applied to a wide variety of media. It's often used in metal working, particularly with titanium and other expensive alloys. This process can also be used in ceramics making, where spray or gel ceramics can offer a near net alternative to milling or machining. This type of production plan may also apply to thermoplastics production, where injection molding may replace more traditional manufacturing methods.
A factory wishing to instill a near net shape system may be required to overhaul the entire production process. Rather than an assembly-line process, net near requires combining many processes into a single step. This can greatly speed up the manufacturing process and increase production rates in the long run.
One of the primary advantages to near net shape production is the way it encourages an efficient use of material. Instead of slowly creating a widget out of a solid block of material, the firm uses exactly the correct amount of material to cast the widget in a mold or die. This process cuts waste, reduces energy use, and keeps costs low. It also reduces the total number of machines and tools needed to complete the process, and may reduce labor costs for some products.
Near net shape strategies also help companies create a virtually perfect product. Using a mold, companies eliminate errors and produce consistent finished goods. This strategy helps to enhance quality control throughout the firm.
This process is also associated with a number of disadvantages that should be considered before implementing near net shape plans. Near net often requires factories to invest in all new equipment, which can involve high upfront costs. This includes new metal dies or molds, as well as new tools and employee training. While this strategy often pays off in the form of lower long-term cost, the high initial investment may make near net out of reach for some companies.