Additive manufacturing (AM) changes the traditional way things are made. From the technical aspect of building an object layer by layer to business models that correspond with the technology such as distributed on-demand manufacturing. But it doesn’t end there – additive manufacturing has the potential to change the way things are consumed.
AM – Technology and Mindset
Responsible production and mindful consumer culture are two sides of the same coin. Today stakeholders are looking for environmentally and socially conscious companies, in turn, companies are in a position to take a stand and help their customers make more responsible choices. We all know the stories about “how things used to be”, appliances were built to last longer, people repaired their own appliances and so on, yet a nostalgic point of view often disregards the changes of the time. Fixing appliances and devices today require very different skills, it’s not something anyone can do at home. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be fixed but the way to bring back the repair mindset is going forward not backward. Looking at additive manufacturing as both a technology and a mindset allows us to address consumerism issues such as repair vs discard, in a number of new and relevant ways.
Repair Layer by Layer
One of the ways AM addresses repairs stems from the technology itself – the build process. The layering of material which is used to build an object in an additive process can also be used to add layers in cases of repairs and restoration. With AM the repair process can be applied to complex geometries, building upon wear and tear of material, or restoring the original shape. Most of these types of repairs are industrially oriented, you can see use cases in aerospace, army, and tooling. AFI KLM E&M (Air France Industries and KLM Engineering & Maintenance) has been using AM laser-cladding for repairs, and EOS offers a repair service for tool inserts, additively building the broken elements without replacing the tool altogether. While this does not relate directly to the end consumer, the corporate level understanding that there is financial worth, as well as environmental worth to repair, is a culture that should be encouraged on different levels of production and consumption (up top and below Trumpf laser metal deposition repairs presented last year at formnext).
Not Just a Part
Closer to the end-consumer, a more mindful consumer culture can be encouraged by providing additively manufactured spare parts. More often than we care to admit we find ourselves throwing out a piece of furniture or an appliance because of one broken part that can’t be found or that is too expensive and not worth replacing. For businesses, manufacturing and keeping stock of replacement parts is costly, but additively manufacturing replacement parts means the parts don’t need to be manufactured in advance, they can be stored in virtual inventory and manufactured on-demand. Whirlpool and Spare Parts 3D, are doing just that – they have combined forces in order to offer AM spare parts for Whirpool’s white appliances (above). Other industries are taking advantage of AM for replacement parts. In agriculture BuyAnyPart, which specializes in sourcing obsolete parts for farm equipment provides a 3D printing service for hard to obtain or expensive replacement parts. In the automotive industry awareness to the importance of replacement for obsolete parts isn’t new. Deutsche Bahn, Siemens Mobility RRX Rail Service Center and Britain’s Angel Trains are producing spare parts for trains, and Daimler has been additively manufacturing spare parts for buses and trucks. Hopefully, these services will trickle down to more industries, reaching more consumers (2nd below additively manufactured replacement bracket for Daimler diesel engine truck – part of NextgenAM).
The Right One
Another way AM can influence consumer culture is customization. customization is not just about catering to the need of the consumer, it’s about eliminating unnecessary production and consumption. With a customized additive manufacturing process the customer purchases the right product, the right fit, which reduces the need to buy more and more products that almost answer the needs but not quite. It also means not producing numerous variations of the same product. Take shoe sizes, for example, the range of sizes is supposed to cater to as many costumers as possible but it’s never an exact fit and usually leads to excess production. While additively manufactured customized shoes are not there yet, insoles such as ME3D by Superfeet are. Superfeet additively manufactures customized insoles, where the customer’s feet are measured and scanned in Fitstations by HP (26 locations in the US) and manufactured on-demand. The message behind customized products is – “this is done especially for you”, that alone promotes a state of mind of choosing quality over quantity (below HP printer bed with insoles at Hannover Messe 2019).
There is no reason why companies today can’t offer solutions that advocate mindful consumerism. This can be done in a number of ways according to the company’s products and services. By doing so they will not only be promoting a culture of maintenance over waste and thoughtful purchases, but also the company’s image. A win-win.