In recent years, we’ve seen a move to print spare parts on demand. As suppliers and manufacturers have noted significant challenges associated with supply chain management especially when it comes to replacement parts. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to have a large stock of replacement parts that you anticipate will be needed in the future. They can incur large costs as waste and can also risk items being buried and lost in storage.
Additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) has situated itself to be a good solution to solve this manufacturing problem. Recent material development and machine optimization has led to the ability for organizations to be able to print end use parts that can meet the requirements of the application. Thus, eliminating the need to overstock and store unneeded parts.
Below we will highlight some important aspects relating to how the ability to print replacement parts on demand has impacted businesses.
Shorter Lead Times for Spare Parts On Demand
Again, in the recent past, many corporations noticed long delays when it comes to shipping parts. This is quite unfavorable especially when dealing with a high priority piece of equipment. Despite being down for only a day, some downed equipment may cost the users tens of thousands of dollars.
This only multiplies when dealing with shipping delays that take weeks or months to be fulfilled. Having the ability to print replacement parts on demand helps reduce the shipping “lead time” to a few hours rather than a few days or week. If it is favorable, some companies choose to print the replacement part as a band aid solution while waiting for the proper part to arrive. This is also a good solution to help mitigate delays in shipping and supply chain.
Discontinued Parts Support
Unfortunately, overtime support for legacy equipment and machinery will be phased out. This can ultimately force businesses to reinvest in a new technology that is still within the support life. This is also quite frustrating to deal with, especially if the broken component is very small. Having the ability to re-engineer system components and produce them on a as needed basis can help lengthen the product lifecycle and can buy the company time rather than requiring them to make big investments right away.
One of the hardest aspects when managing a physical inventory is being able to accurately predict the frequency in which a replacement part is needed. To further this, it is also very important to ensure that you have enough parts in stock in case there is a surge in breakages. When these parameters aren’t estimated accurately, it can result in you holding too many parts at a time which will incur cost or may result in you not having enough when needed.
Additive manufacturing and the printing of on demand replacement parts will help reduce this overflow or underflow and will also lessen the burden of the inventory department. We’ve seen a move to a digital inventory, which is a bank of 3D files that are used to print on demand. This also allows for freedom to send parts digitally between manufacturing locations, based on where the final parts are needed.
Part Modification and Customization
Having the ability to reverse engineer replacement parts gives designers the ability to improve on designs and mechanical properties. Changing the material type or even the part geometry could prove to be very resourceful as the parts can be optimized and have a higher product life than it did when it came out of the factory.
A good example of this is a part that degrade readily when outside and exposed to UV light. This will make the part brittle and will greatly shorten its expected life. To improve on this, engineers can redesign the part and print it using a polymer that is UV stable which in turn would help improve its life and help reduce downtime of that specific piece of equipment.
Reducing Part Weight
Replacing heavy and highly unoptimized parts on a piece of equipment could be very beneficial. Normally, parts are designed and developed using traditional CNC design principles. Although functionally this does work, it also results in parts that are very heavy which can lead to other reliability issues and an increase in energy consumption.
With 3D printing and additive manufacturing, users can develop parts and structures that don’t need to adhere to CNC design methodology and can take advantage of design principles that wouldn’t be manufacturable without an additive solution.
As you can see from the above, being able to print replacement parts for equipment has the ability to help streamline many aspects of a user’s business. It can help reduce part lead times, can improve part lifecycle, and can also help improve the efficiency of the component.
If you have any questions about how additive manufacturing can be used to help support your business or 3D print spare parts using a digital inventory, please reach out to our application engineers and we would be happy to work with you to help develop an appropriate solution.