Additively Manufactured Spare Parts – Magnitude and Timing


Lee-Bath Nelson  

Lockheed Martin Arcam - 3D printed brackets for the Juno mission

2016 was a pivotal year for Additive Manufacturing, not because so many companies adopted it but because so many companies spoke about their ongoing use of it. It’s no wonder: the total value of Additively Manufactured parts and products was estimated at over $5Bn in 2015 (derived from IDC’s report) and is projected to top $400Bn in 2025 according to McKinsey. That’s an average annual growth of 55% over those 10 years, as seen in the illustration below.

3D Printing - Market Size - Make it LEO

More than anywhere else, this public discussion and use is evident in spare parts. It’s no wonder: the cost savings are significant and the disruption is minimal. Therefore, led by various transportation industries, many industries are adopting 3D printed (spare) parts. Other ecosystem players are taking notice as well. SAP is working on Distributed Manufacturing – a module that will support virtual inventory and, eventually, on demand additive manufacturing of these parts directly from your ERP. In a future post we will write in more details about how a company can easily start a virtual inventory of spare parts (feel free to reach out to me in private or comment here – if you want to get an earlier preview). Meanwhile, here is a summary infographic put together by our own Aya Bentur on the industries with Additively Manufactured parts, the magnitude of their activity (in terms of quantity of parts), and how long they’ve been at it. A few more explanations and examples follow.


Additively Manufactured Spare Parts - infographic - Make it LEO

Up in the Air & Beyond

Aerospace companies have been using the unique geometrical characteristics enabled by Additive Manufacturing for many years. GE is leading the way but other players like Airbus are embracing these manufacturing methods. NASA is not far behind (up top Lockheed Martin Arcam – 3D printed brackets for the Juno mission). Some of these parts are very sophisticated and many are made of metal. Titanium is a popular metal due to its light weight and robust characteristics.

An Engineer at Airbus removes excess powder from a part made by Additive Layer Manufacturing
An Engineer at Airbus removes excess powder from a part made by Additive Layer Manufacturing
Step on it

Car and Truck manufacturers have been using 3D printing for many many years, and naturally made the transition to Additive Manufacturing of spare parts. We highlighted several of these in an earlier post. The breadth and depth of adoption is the largest in this category, from customized luxury parts at Rolls-Royce through the mainstream cars like Daihatsu all the way to producing spare parts for models that are no longer supported or 3D printing the odd part at an auto shop.

Additively manufactured clips for Rolls-Royce Phantom
Additively manufactured clips for Rolls-Royce Phantom
Additive Manufacturing of parts at BMW
Additive Manufacturing of parts at BMW
Rails and Whales

German railway company Deutsche Bahn came to the conclusion that Additively Manufactured spare parts are the way to cut on its inventory costs. They target aluminum and plastic parts – aluminum Additively Manufactured spare parts are already today performing in running trains. Going the extra mile, DB’s Stefanie Brickwede set up Mobility goes Additive – a consortium that furthers the exchange of information among ecosystem players to improve the possibilities in spare parts Additive Manufacturing. Ship makers, like Maersk , are also looking into 3D printing parts, in particular on ships at sea.

Additive Manufacturing Aluminum - Pump for Automotive Sector
Additive Manufacturing aluminum – pump for automotive sector
Off Road – Short Distance

Lighter, more short distance, transportation are not left behind. Bikes and drones also include 3D printed spare parts, mostly in plastic and reinforced plastic. When we think of recent Amazon patents for 3D printing on delivery trucks  (in my opinion still far from realistic) and delivery through drone carrying blimps (less unrealistic) and the need for on demand spare parts for these contemporary modes of transportation is clear.

Additive manufacturing of parts and spare parts - RPU Pedals - Carbon M1
Additive manufacturing of parts and spare parts – RPU Pedals – Carbon M1
Military & Defense

Both defense industries and Defense Forces have use for on demand additively manufactured spare parts. 3D printing in the battlefield or on battle ships is just one use. Simple avoidance of lots of inventory spread all over is another. This explains why so many, from the Royal Air Force to Infantry are going in this direction. Defense companies are also enjoying the geometric and special features possible only with Additive Manufacturing, similar to the Aerospace industry.

Manufacturing the Manufacturing
A gear assembly printed with HP's Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer
A gear assembly printed with HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer

When a manufacturing machine is down, the whole line is down so on demand timely availability of spare parts can save time and business problems. In some cases, it is so acute that often even a temporary part until the original part arrives is a solution (a little like the smaller, limited distance, spare tire supplied with many cars). Of course, 3D printers are manufacturing machines and, indeed, HP practices what it preaches in its JetFusion 3D printer. 66 out of 135 plastic parts within the printer are 3D printed by the Jet Fusion (on a more philosophical note: from the 2nd machine and on only…). These are parts, and their spares. Stephen Nigro described this decision as a purely economic one, reducing costs of production as well as future costs of the inventory of spare parts. HP claims that the break-even point compared to injection molding is 55,000 items of the same part and Nigro’s goal is to reach a break even point of 1 million pieces of the same part. Other manufacturing machines and power plants are also using 3D printed spare parts.

And so Much More!

Additional industries are also entering the fray. Some, like Medical Devices, more vocally and some more quietly, yet effectively, like Plastic Goods, White Appliances, Consumer goods, and more. Almost every discussion we have with ecosystem players reveals additional adoptions. It’s an exciting time to be in this ecosystem.

Parting Thought

Brands innovate all the time – to enable new business, to increase profits, to experiment, and sometimes just for the heck of it. The problem is that to move the needle and make a noticeable improvement in your business, innovation often needs to be very disruptive and affect almost every aspect of the business. To a small, nimble, start-up that doesn’t sound like a problem but in large brands and companies this can be a deal breaker. I was recently invited to participate in and present at EY’s excellent workshop titled “Innovation Realized: Disruptive Manufacturing Beyond 4.0“, which centered on innovation through IoT and Additive Manufacturing (3D printing). At the workshop, I heard an interesting IoT related keynote given by Dr. Florian Michahelles from Siemens about the needle moving (and sometimes jaw-dropping) benefits from IoT. To reach these benefits requires a system-wide adoption that disrupts practically every part of the organization. Wonderful benefits but so tough to pull the trigger on something like this. What struck me most is the contrast between this and the “low hanging fruit” that can be reaped from clever adoption of Additive Manufacturing, most especially when applied to spare parts. More on how coming in a future post.

Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your impressions. Share your comments and suggestions below. For more inspiration and information follow us on Pinterest or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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