3D Printing of spare parts: the challenges are surmountable

The opportunity to use additive manufacturing to print spare parts is widely recognized.  In ARC’s conversations with industry insiders, we have come across many companies that have beta projects and are printing a small number of parts, but no company that is doing this at scale. There are a number of challenges associated with scaling additive manufacturing in the supply chain:

  • Old parts are often the slow-moving parts, does the company still have the design specs for these parts?
  • A big company may have tens of thousands of slow moving SKUs. Are they willing to dispose of that inventory and write it off?
  • The performance and lifespan of a printed part will be different than traditional parts. In some cases, it may be better. But the testing pro-cess may be lengthy.
  • Can companies insure that a repeatable, high quality process will be used to print parts in myriad warehouses around the world?
  • Companies do not want to share their intellectual property with third parties like LSPs. If they are working with contract manufacturers from areas where counterfeiting is common, they also need to ensure that only the specified number of parts are printed.
  • There can be cultural issues: many people just don’t like to do things in a new way; further, manufacturing executives in charge of spare part production may have to cede authority for many parts to supply chain executives.

But the challenges are not insurmountable.  Those manufacturers that are ahead of their peers are the ones that have concept centers with dedicated staffs devoted to exploiting this technology.  Manufacturers that have advanced further have targets for determining the SKUs that will have the best ROI and have set goals for saving money in this area.

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