Is it Time for Turnkey Additive Manufacturing Solutions?


Lee-Bath Nelson  

turnkey 3D printed key turner by makersmakingchange

One of the main trends we (bravely?) predicted for 2021 is the accelerated adoption of turnkey solutions in additive manufacturing (AM). We even promised a post on it – here it is. We will look at the 2 more general trends that feed into this AM trend and then examine the current offering of turnkey AM solutions.

From Product to Service

A key trend we expect for the coming decade is XaaS – Everything as a Service – or aaS (as a Service). In certain industries the aaS revolution has been happening for over a decade. In software, for example, SaaS (Software as a Service) has been gaining ground for 2 decades and the recent pandemic has turned even the most adamant traditionalists toward SaaS/Cloud and away from on premise installed software. Over the years, we’ve seen other XaaS adoption emerging: Hardware as a Service (like Carbon’s business model, or in the 2D world HP Indigo’s), Insurance as a Service (where you pay car insurance based on your miles) is quite prevalent recently following COVID-19, etc. Turnkey AM solutions are part of AMaaS, the Additive version of MaaS (Manufacturing as a Service). However, AMaaS is quite different than your (soon to be) run-of-the-mill MaaS because of AM’s effects on the supply chain. AMaaS solutions must also address digital supply chains, not just manufacturing – making these solutions even more holistic from part selection through adaptation and selling to fulfillment.

Wilhelmsen turnkey 3d-printing

Digital, Distributed, and  Local

The world is going digital (see our #goDigital series for some examples). Famously, the % of shopping that moved to e-commerce has jumped from about 13% of total sales in 2019 to about 20% of total sales in 2020. Without the pandemic, analysts predicted it would take about 3 years to achieve this level of e-commerce. Even more impressively, Mastercard reported that 2020 holiday sales overall were 3% higher in 2020 than 2019 levels but online shopping was 49% higher! In addition, the pandemic and repeated supply chain failures (the latest in Israel is a current problem with supply of white appliances driving prices up to 30% higher within 1 month), has caused a rethink of supply chains as well as where and how we manufacture. At the New Digital Age e-conference, former US Treasury Secretary and former Harvard President Prof. Larry Summers said: “We were in an age of globalization and just-in-time and are entering an age of just-in-case and localization.” That means local and distributed manufacturing (and potentially a backup/emergency digital supply chain). Both the move to e-commerce and the move to local distributed manufacturing are trends well served by additive manufacturing. However, answering these needs with AM requires a lot of expertise and, since the AM industry is so fragmented, OEMs need to piece together an end-to-end holistic solution from a variety of vendors of machines, process software, IP protection, consistency & tracking, post processing, and e-commerce.  Plus, they need to find the best of breed for each category and hire experts or service providers to actually do the work. This is a tall order.

Insert and Turn the Key

OEMs that have in house AM experience and have, or expect to have, a very large AM footprint would take on this task and create their own in-house solution. But what about those OEMs that are not in AM yet or are not sure how big their footprint will be? In other manufacturing technologies there are turnkey providers and contract manufacturers that do everything for you. The same is true for AM.
Take, for example, Replique – a venture in BASF’s Chemovator. Replique is offering a turnkey service to industrial OEMs that want to enter AM. Dr Max Siebert, the head of Replique, explains: “Many OEMs struggle to integrate AM into existing processes. Everybody seeks a start but with low investment, especially in the current volatile times. Turnkey solutions help them to start quickly and leanly. Another plus which turnkey solutions bring to the table is connecting various important building bricks e.g. engineering services, material knowledge, process integration, e-commerce and many more.” Replique, specifically, also connects additional bricks: “Replique offers an industrial end-to-end platform for decentralized manufacturing of spare parts which not only integrates lean and easy into existing processes, we also have mechanisms to protect IP, monitor quality of produced parts, and provide order fulfilment anywhere in the world. An OEM can start simple and with no cost until a part is being sold” – Siebert adds.

3D printed clay bricks by Rocker Lange

We, at LEO Lane, provide the IP protection, consistency enforcement, and tracking parts to turnkey providers. According to Siebert these are important bricks to connect: “We believe that the IP of OEMs is one of their most valuable assets and needs to be protected. Furthermore, quality parameters are to be tightly monitored when it comes to industrially used parts where OEMs guarantee their clients a certain quality”. The quality comes from a combination of AM experience, understanding the industry’s requirements, and tracking to monitor that everything is executed as planned. While LEO Lane can provide tracking, it is up to the turnkey solution to provide the rest using in house expertise and custom applications. Given this description it is no wonder that turnkey solutions typically emanate from 2 kinds of expertise: expertise in a specific industry or AM (and digital supply chain) expertise, like Replique.

Anchors Aweigh

Industry specific expertise typically brings solutions in that specific industry, such as Maritime or Oil&Gas, applying industry connections towards an AM turnkey solution. In some cases, it starts with a company that puts together a solution because of a need it sees for its own parts. Then, the company hears from its customers that they would love for it to provide parts from other suppliers in a similar manner. Given customer demand, there are joint ventures and start ups that from day 1 are aimed only at the industry from which they came. In the Maritime industry, for example, Thyssenkrupp & Wilhelmsen established a joint venture for just this purpose in 2020. Abhinav Singhal, director of Thyssenkrupp Innovations said “This is going to be a true gamechanger for the maritime industry and we are proud to offer it alongside Wilhelmsen.” Hakon Ellekjaer, Head of Venture, 3D Printing at Wilhelmsen, added, “This joint venture will … bring the benefits of Additive Manufacturing technology to shipping companies by reducing the cost of spare parts, lead times and environmental footprint.”. This need was also recognized by shipping hub Singapore and its government commissioned a study of AM feasible parts for Maritime, which found a wide range of possibilities. Ivaldi Group, which offers a turnkey AM and digital inventory solution, had already digitized thousands of such maritime and offshore parts by the summer of 2020, according to their CEO Espen Sivertsen.

turnkey light on 3d printed gears engineerdog


Big Brother

In a discussion I had with Adam Penna of All Digital AM, Adam summarized the need well: “People need to know: if I’m producing this widget, that’s how it’s done. In additive it’s different for different machines and different materials so it needs to be locked down for the industry, for the application”. That also means expertise can be applied repeatedly for various OEMs rather than having each OEM develop it independently, which would be inefficient and costly. Deep sector expertise can come from the people behind the solution or from the companies the venture is associated with, like in the case of the Thyssenkrupp-Wilhelmsen joint venture. However, some expertise that is very important for correct AM production is not sector specific – material expertise is a good example. Large material companies have entered the AM industry and have developed strong AM materials expertise that can be leveraged for turnkey solutions. BASF, the Fortune 500 material company, is home not only to Replique but also to ForwardAM – a subsidiary offering AM materials as well as engineering and 3D printing services – and to many material experts. All this expertise can help in many of the steps offered by turnkey solutions, like Replique: picking the parts and materials appropriate for these parts in AM, converting the parts to AM-ready digital form, creating and operating a portal for selling them, and handling the AM production and logistics once the part is ordered. It can also help in understanding customer specific needs. Siebert expands: “Being closely connected to BASF’s engineering and material knowledge and deep expertise in servicing industrial clients from different verticals for decades, enables us to understand the needs of many applications. Additionally, we can provide simulation tools and in-house knowledge since BASF is also printing parts in its own production facilities”.

Bottom Line

In summary, for those OEMs considering additive manufacturing but not sure where or how to start, turnkey solutions give an easier leaner introduction to the wonders of AM and allows OEMs to dip their toe and continue to swim in the AM pool. In other manufacturing technologies contract manufacturing and turnkey services are thriving which bodes well for the prospects of the AM turnkey providers beyond just the initial foray into AM. We continue to think this is a trend that will intensify in 2021 and are curious to see from up close how things play out for these ventures.

For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates. Pictures: Key Turner for people with disabilities, 3D printed parts from Wilhelmsen, 3D printed clay bricks by Rocker-Lange, turnkey (or turn-wrench) light switch with gears by engineerdog.

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