Meeting the needs of MRO spares through Digital Manufacturing

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.

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The pandemic is speeding a shift to 3-D printing

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.

The Pandemic Is Speeding a Shift to 3-D Printing
Source: Bloomberg

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.

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New SmarTech Report: AM service bureaus to support reshoring and supply chain recovery

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.

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Manufacturing-as-a-Service: Essential to Digital Manufacturing

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.

Manufacturing-as-a-Service: Essential to Digital Manufacturing

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.”

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Satair teams with Fast Radius and HP to 3D print aircraft maintenance tooling components

Aircraft part manufacturer Satair is using HP’s full colour 3D printing technology via service provider Fast Radius to produce redesigned tooling components.

Satair HP Fast Radius

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.

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There’s “huge potential” for 3D printing inside aircraft cabins

ZAL Tech Center.JPG

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.

ZAL Tech Center.JPG

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.

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3D Printing and the Supply Chain

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.

3D printing

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?

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Pratt & Whitney 3D prints aero-engine MRO component with ST Engineering

“3D printing will be a game-changer for the MRO industry worldwide.”

Pratt & Whitney is set to introduce a 3D printed aero-engine component into its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations by mid-2020 after a successful collaboration with ST Engineering.

ST Engineering MRO

The two companies came together to leverage 3D printing technology to facilitate faster and more flexible repair solutions, with contributions also coming from Pratt & Whitney’s repair specialist Component Aerospace Singapore.

Component Aerospace Singapore provides engine part repair for combustion chambers, fuel systems and manifolds; ST Engineering boasts ‘production-level 3D capabilities’ and experience applying 3D printing in land transport systems; and Pratt & Whitney is a specialist in design and engineering.

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3D printing use for MRO will double: report

Dive Brief:

  • The use of 3D printing for maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) will double “in the coming years,” according to a survey of 114 respondents, conducted by Dimensional Research and Essentium, a 3D printing platform. The survey did not specify a time frame for “in the coming years.”
  • The respondents see use cases for 3D printing in various types of prototyping and parts production. Benefits of the technology include reduced lead times, cost reduction, the ability for mass customization and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
  • Despite respondents naming cost reduction as a benefit, the plurality reported cost as the biggest obstacle to adopting 3D printing at scale. 3D printing technology and materials are too expensive, according to more than one-third of respondents.

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The 2020 vision for 3D printing and digital manufacturing

“3D printing and digital manufacturing is driving a world with less waste, less inventory and lower CO2 emissions.”

George Brasher, HP’s UK & Ireland MD says the next year, and decade, will be an exciting time for additive manufacturing. 

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2020 is set to be the year when the potential of 3D printing is realised across more industries. We’ve seen in the previous decade how 3D tech has turned traditional production models and workflows on their head, offering on-demand, bespoke manufacturing –  and presenting us with a modern model of the artisan age. This is only going to develop further as we begin this new decade.

So what are the key trends to watch out for, and where will we see the 3D industry focus its attention in 2020?

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