Additive manufacturing is no longer just for prototypes. Its increasing popularity and technical capabilities have pushed it into position to change the way manufacturers manage their spare parts inventory.
No matter how technologies change, or what new innovations break into the mainstream, the basic goals of manufacturing remain the same: Reduce unplanned downtime, reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary waste, etc. How fortunate it is that 3D printing (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) is one of those cool, innovative technologies that is finding itself a very nice spot in the realm of day-to-day cost and time savings. Not only can it be used to produce interesting and previously impossible designs, it has also become a useful way to change spare parts management.
When a system goes down, making the repairs needed to get it back up and running can be time-consuming. Even more so if the part that needs replacing is no longer readily available. With the right program in place, additive manufacturing can build that part on demand—whether through reverse engineering, digital files from the component supplier, or perhaps through the supplier itself.
In recent years, advances in the printing technology, in the materials that can be used, and the software control of the end-to-end workflow have fundamentally changed the way parts can be made with additive manufacturing, says John Nanry, co-founder and chief product officer at Fast Radius, which provides 3D printing services.
EIT Digital, a digital innovation, education community and accelerator of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), has supported the creation of a 3D printing database. Developed to help manufacturers identify potential time and cost savings, the directory aims to encourage more businesses to switch to 3D printing instead of conventional methods.
Aalto University Finland created the database, which will be rolled out as a plugin for 3D data expert software from industrial partner DeskArtes, also based in Finland. Leading manufacturing company and 3D software developer Siemens created knowledge graphs for the system, ensuring logical links between all collected data.
The Big Data behind 3D printing
When developing under Industry 4.0, conventional manufacturing businesses are challenged with rethinking the way things are done. For 3D printing’s part in this, many stakeholders are rising to the aid of these businesses at a peak point of transition.
After many years in stealth mode, California-based VELO3D emerged in August 2018 with the release of its end-to-end Sapphire metal 3D printer. The industry took notice. The system, based on the company’s Intelligent Fusion technology, gained significant attention for its promise of support-free 3D printing and production capabilities.
Since then, VELO3D has kept up momentum, showcasing applications for its metal AM system in various industries and working with influential players in the AM and aerospace industries, such as Stratasys Direct and Boom Supersonic.
We recently had an in depth conversation with VELO3D’s Chief Customer Officer Richard Nieset about the company’s unique 3D printing technology as well as how it aims to disrupt the metal AM and broader manufacturing markets with its capabilities. If there is one key thing to take away from the conversation, it is that VELO3D is delivering on its promises and is confident in its ability to transform and unlock AM applications, especially in the aerospace and industrial sectors.
Not since the first Industrial Revolution has the manufacturing industry transformed more than it has in the last 20 years. New technologies including robotics, computer-driven manufacturing, and data analytics have helped companies increase supply chain efficiencies to keep up with demand, but what if a bigger manufacturing industry transformation was on the horizon? Take a moment and imagine manufacturing becoming fully digital, allowing us to produce and distribute custom products to meet demand in near real-time.
That’s the vision that’s being brought to reality by Chicago-based additive manufacturer Fast Radius.
I recently had the privilege of visiting their facility in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood and spoke with Fast Radius Chief Executive Officer Lou Rassey and Chief Operating Officer Pat McCusker, learning more about the company, its vision and strategy, and expansive list of clients. I found the scope of what Fast Radius does stretches far past the incremental improvements in efficiency the manufacturing industry expects.
German railway company Deutsche Bahn is integrating metal additive manufacturing 3DMP technology from GEFERTEC to improve the availability of hard-to-procure spare parts.
The 3DMP process was implemented for the first time as part of this pilot project. According to Dr. Tina Schlingmann, a Senior Consultant of complete railway systems technology at Deutsche Bahn, availability is a big issue for the company. 3DPM is being used to service vehicles for older locomotives, including now obsolete parts.
Having a 3D printer on the factory floor has always been an intriguing proposition, as who wouldn’t want to bypass the supply chain entirely and whip up a quick replacement part, or even better, a brand new optimized tool or maybe even specialized robot grippers, right then and there? That is perfectly reasonable and could do everything from truncate downtimes and lead to safer and more efficient operations. Several manufacturers have found certain 3D printers as invaluable new tools that cannot only create prototypes, but also the jigs, fixtures and tooling to enable production.
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The US Navy has conducted Print Sprint II event in San Diego to encourage the use of 3D printing technology at naval shipyards to support fleets.
Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Tactical Innovation Implementation Lab (TIIL) organised the event designed to enable navy maintenance providers to work collaboratively to develop new 3D printing solutions and applications.
Print Sprint II comes after the first print sprint was conducted last year at Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Keyport to gauge the fleet and shipyards’ abilities to create a random part in a short time through additive manufacturing.
The efficiency-enhancing benefits of 3D printing/additive manufacturing can deliver many quantifiable advantages for supply chain managers.
The efficiency-enhancing benefits of 3D printing/additive manufacturing (AM) can deliver many quantifiable advantages for supply chain managers. Previously, I talked about its ability to simplify the supply chain via the production of complex parts. Another key aspect of AM that can deliver even more significant efficiencies within supply chains, is its ability to enable the use of virtual/digital inventories. This is quite literally the ability to access and pull parts from a digital (rather than physical) inventory and effortlessly 3D print them anywhere at any time in the exact quantity desired. The digital inventory can be stored on a local disk, in a central disk or even in the cloud.
This has several positive implications, such as cost savings that arises from eradicating the need for large physical inventories. Let’s face it, physical inventory is the weak spot in any supply chain; it has no benefits beyond the availability of parts and is a burden for companies to pay large sums of money in order to maintain it. From a logistics perspective, using AM with virtual inventories cuts out the headache and costs of balancing excess and shortages in physical inventory at individual locations. Indeed, the logistical benefits are even greater as virtual inventories simplify and streamline the distribution network at the geographic level. Think about it – there’s no longer any physical inventory, which means the traditional central-to-region-to-local distribution model is eradicated, as is the need to do projections, which have to be exact, lest the company suffers from more delays and more costs. In contrast, working digitally takes no time at all and is much cheaper.
Clothes shopping can be frustrating for people with uncommon shapes or understocked sizes; you rarely find what you want, and when you do, it rarely fits 100 percent comfortably. 3D printing may change the nature of the retail experience for that group — and for retailers who can’t always predict what their customers want.
“A lot of people are passionate about this tech,” says Fatma Baytar, an assistant professor in Cornell University’s department of fiber science and apparel design. “People are trying different ways to make it user friendly. It’s a neat idea.”
Some companies are already experimenting with 3D printing in the manufacturing process. Adidas began making customizable, 3D-printed midsoles for its running shoes in 2015 and is now using an advanced version of 3D printing that creates a finished product with more consistent quality and durability.