Oil company X had problems this spring. It was time for field maintenance, but company X couldn’t go ahead with it because it needed spare parts that weren’t coming anytime soon. Coronavirus-prompted lockdowns were breaking down international supply chains. Refinery Y had the same problem. It was maintenance time, and maintenance could not begin because of that same disruption to the supply chain. Refinery Y had to delay its maintenance, risking outages.
The problems of X and Y are very real and also dangerous. They also reveal one of the less pleasant aspects of the globalized economy: an overdependence on long international supply chains. But there is an alternative to these long supply chains: additive manufacturing or 3D printing.
Since the beginning of this year, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the fragility of global supply chains that provide life-saving equipment including ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical facilities around the world.
3D printing has long emphasized its power to decentralize global manufacturing by manufacturing locally, but the material with which it operates is still beholden to the global supply chain.
The pro-decentralization argument in favor of additive manufacturing systems generally goes something like this: global supply chains require huge amounts of transportation. Since additive manufacturing systems 3D print products on site without expensive tooling from a 3D design file, the cost of shipping and production is reduced. CAD files are easy to reverse engineer and easy to redesign, greatly reducing time-to-market as well. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, this argument was not airtight by any means. The cost of producing certain non-essential and essential goods (including medical supplies) was still cheaper by traditional methods like injection molding and transcontinental shipping.
It’s no doubt that 3D printing and additive manufacturing are some of the most exciting technologies in the past decade. But as rife with much as the hobbyist and household applications are already, the most significant potential of additive manufacturing lies behind the outstanding scenes in each supply chain.
Experts assert that rapid prototyping can potentially remake the entire manufacturing and product handling process. This is because the approach can help bring about professionally-designed products quicker than ever. Keep in mind that rapid prototyping is more than just 3D printing. The concept can be helpful even when working with different materials to suit manufacturers and eventually transform the work environment for your employees.
With “disruption” becoming an increasing feature of supply chains, whose decision-makers have to find new ways to mitigate risks from it, supply chain innovation is now a key requirement for effective, efficient and economic success. The use of optimization tools has long been a feature of the area of inventory management, and now new technologies are advancing those further. MRO spare parts management often balances the need to hold stock on shelves with the locking-in of working capital. However, digital manufacturing, such as the use of 3D printing, is now proving to change that paradigm, allowing companies to ensure service levels without the financial constraints of the past. This article looks at how 3D printing helps with MRO spare parts management, and describes the first steps to adopt it.
In the span of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended life around the world, and its impact grows more severe with each passing day. The swiftness and pervasiveness of the disruption is unparalleled in modern history, as entire economies grind to a halt in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Societies have been forced to quickly adapt to the disruption, in many cases turning to technologies that have long been hailed for disruptive potential of their own.
In the supply chain, additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, is finally having its moment.
Across industries, supply chains have been hit hard as factories shut down or limit production. However, none has been strained more than the medical supply chain, as demand soars for protective equipment like masks and gloves, as well as for critical life-saving equipment such as ventilators. Hospitals will likely soon be overwhelmed, with capacity and supplies pushed to their limits. In the face of this unprecedented challenge, additive manufacturing has stepped in to fill the gap.
SmarTech Analysis has published a new report on the state of metal 3D printing service bureaus dubbed “The Market for Metal Additive Manufacturing Services: 2020-2029.” The report illustrates the current picture of the metal additive manufacturing (AM) service market and projects the future revenue opportunities that will emerge by relying on a robust set of quantitative data. Though the report provides a comprehensive look at the industry, it is being framed as particularly valuable given the major disruptions that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the global supply chain.
Nearly all products are made in a centralized manner, with individual components made in one set of factories and shipped to others to be assembled. As nations have shut down their borders in order to limit the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, starting with China, the globalized economy was quickly disrupted. 94 percent Fortune 1000 companies were reported as seeing their supply chains impacted in response to the pandemic, just as it was reaching its peak impact in China.
Industry 4.0 is transforming the world of manufacturing and on-demand manufacturing or manufacturing-as-a-Service (MaaS) has an essential role to play.
Digital platforms marrying companies seeking fast, cost-effective production with others who have manufacturing capacity are increasingly streamlining supply chains, bringing benefits to all parties. MaaS operators in areas such as machining and 3D printing are offering the demand/capacity balancing that has been seen in other areas like Uber and AirBnB, suggests Professor Rab Scott, Head of Digital, University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).
“This can be attributed to connectivity and improved modeling capabilities – the ability of companies to more accurately predict when spare capacity is going to arise, and then the ability to monetize that spare capacity through these platforms. The growth of these platforms is also enabled by the acceptance of these sorts of platforms following the success of Uber etc.”
Aircraft part manufacturer Satair is using HP’s full colour 3D printing technology via service provider Fast Radius to produce redesigned tooling components.
The Airbus services company moved to adopt Fast Radius’ 3D printing capabilities in a bid to increase the speed and sustainability of aircraft maintenance tool delivery. Working with both Fast Radius and HP, Satair has additively manufactured GAGS tool pads, flap zero locking tools and pintle bearing alignment tools, all of which are industry compliant.
Using the HP Jet Fusion 580 Color platform, these tools were printed in a PA 12 material, to take advantage of its chemical resistance to oils, greases, aliphatic hydrocarbons and alkalis, and in red and orange colours, to enhance their visibility. The GAGS tool pads have a reduced mass of 60% and an improved strength-to-weight ratio; the flap zero locking tools have been reduced from six assembled components to two, with its lead time halved; and the pintle bearing alignment tools have been reduced from four parts to two.
ZAL Tech Center played host to this year’s Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin AM Conference.
I’ve said it before, since working in additive manufacturing I’ve adopted a bit of a habit of playing “spot the additive application” whenever I board a plane. Great for editorial, but quite annoying, I would imagine, for my other half whenever we go on holiday.
The same happened last week as I hopped on a flight to Hamburg for the second Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin Additive Manufacturing conference. As I settled into the brash yellow and blue my seats of my budget aircraft (the glamorous life of the media), I began circling with imaginary red pen all of the areas where AM might find a useful home from the tens of assembled parts I could see in the arm rest mechanism to the unnecessary tray tables that had been bolted shut to restrict use in the rows of emergency exit seats (it’s really almost TOO glamorous).
Two ferry rides later, it was exactly those types of applications that a collective of aerospace specialists and additive experts had gathered at the ZAL Tech Center, south of the River Elbe, to explore. If being privy to two days worth of brain storming sessions with a bunch of 3D printing-literate engineers shows you anything, it’s that those far flung ideas like personalised seats and bionic bathrooms are not a million miles away from reality. Though the suggestion of a real-life RoboCop may be taking things a little too far.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has been around in one shape or form for a while. The process essentially entails building a three-dimensional object from computer-aided design (CAD) to add material layer by layer until a final product is complete. The use cases for 3D printing cover most anything you can imagine. In fact, recently, while on a weekend ski trip with friends, my buddy John was riding the chairlift with two women from France who worked for a company that specialized in 3D printing human organs. However, these 3D printed organs were not meant to be used for transplants. Instead, these 3D printed organs were used as replicas of human organs to practice complex surgeries.
This conversation got me thinking about the pros and cons of 3D printing, and how as supply chain professionals, it fits into our everyday lives. In the grand scheme of things, 3D printing’s effect on the supply chain can be summarized as the following: warehouses no longer need to keep as many parts in stock. The rationale is that the parts can simply be printed on an as-needed basis. Along these lines of thinking, this would seem to be especially true for the replacement parts industry. However, does this actually make sense and is it a soon-to-be reality?