Maintaining inventories of spare parts has historically been a burden for suppliers and customers. Costly to store and rarely ordered, some suppliers are hesitant to even manufacture and offer spare parts to customers. In the midst of these difficulties arises the new manufacturing solution – digital inventories of designs printed on-demand with 3D printing.
3D printing, aka additive manufacturing (AM), offers fast production, unrestrained by the lead times associated with injection molding or other traditional manufacturing methods. A variety of technologies and materials serve many applications and are capable of handling complex geometries. Part suppliers can simply send digital files to an additive manufacturing service bureau like Stratasys Direct, and access large manufacturing capacities and a wide-range of post-processing offerings.
Supplying spare parts for products can be challenging. They are generally composed of numerous unique parts, some that are replaced over time as new iterations and generations of the product come to market. As a result, a trade-off can arise for companies between customer service and the costs of maintaining obsolete parts and establishing customer distribution.
According to a recent study from PwC’s Strategy&, these challenges are the reason spare parts suppliers are having difficulties meeting the needs of their customers. They found that “50% of customers have been looking into 3D printing their own parts”, and estimate that “85% of spare parts suppliers will incorporate 3D printing into their business.”
These businesses see the innate business value of 3D printing and its impact on the supply chain. Transitioning to on-demand manufacturing leads to cost savings by eliminating or significantly reducing inventory requirements. Digital files also provide the ability to quickly produce new, updated designs at little to no additional cost. Businesses that utilize 3D printing service providers deal with less risk and more control, having a single manufacturing method for a variety of parts.
Realistically, businesses that utilize 3D printing have a competitive advantage because they’re embracing the technologies and capabilities necessary to remain relevant in the changing manufacturing landscape. So, how can companies take the first steps toward incorporating 3D printing into their spare parts business?
Most companies begin with an analysis of their part designs. Can the parts be produced with additive manufacturing? Do parts need to be redesigned in order to become feasible for 3D printing? Some parts may be better suited for FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) technology, with its large build capabilities and thermoplastic materials. Other complex, detailed designs may require the robust, specialized nylon materials offered with Laser Sintering (LS, SLS) technology. Analyzing and organizing part designs by technology will help determine which process is imperative for overall spare parts production.
Performing a classic ‘make vs. buy’ analysis will help you determine whether to purchase in-house machines to build spare parts or outsource to a 3D printing service provider like Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. If a manufacturer needs multiple technologies, experienced engineering help in additive manufacturing, post-processing and finishing services, or industry specific quality standards, turning to a 3D printing service provider is the ideal choice.
With 3D printing, companies can ensure the availability of spare parts for their customers and reduce the lead times and costs associated with large, and often times obsolete inventories. By incorporating the processes now, they will gain a significant competitive advantage.