There are plenty of examples of 3D printed spare parts saving companies and industries money – the technology has been used to make spare parts for automobiles, metro trains, the US Marine Corps, container ships, and even beverage filling plants. The goal is on-demand manufacturing of spare parts, so industries can eliminate the warehouses that are full of spare parts just waiting to be put into service. As more large companies in the appliance industry are looking at 3D printed spare parts, it’s important to learn just how much the technology could potentially help.
In order to conduct a feasibility study on 3D printed spare parts, the Asia Pacific sector of multinational home appliance manufacturer Electrolux is working with Singapore startup Spare Parts 3D, which focuses on the home appliance market and seems like a rather apt partner to choose for a spare parts study.
The company’s website proclaims that companies can directly improve their bottom line when using 3D printing to manufacture spare parts. Typically, large manufacturers will hold onto a stock of spare parts for a long time, even after the corresponding appliance is no longer being produced; this common practice is done to help with after-sales repair and maintenance. However, this often causes higher inventory costs, due to the labor and maintenance costs of maintaining the warehouses the spare parts are in. In addition, production costs rise once the parts can’t be acquired through high-volume production sites, and sometimes they remain in stock for so long that they end up being surpassed by newer models and tossed out, which we can all agree is pretty wasteful.
Another cost consideration, and a time-consuming one at that, is centrally located distribution centers. Spare parts are usually warehoused at these locations, or factories, and then have to be shipped out to the end consumer, which could take days. While this time can be reduced by maintaining parts inventories in more regional warehouses, this ramps up the labor and maintenance costs again.
All of these extra costs and delivery times are avoidable, or at least able to be greatly minimized, with 3D printing technology. But as 3D printing continues to mature, Electrolux Asia Pacific wants to evaluate the on-demand and distributed production of 3D printed spare parts as a long-term solution for increasing efficiency and reducing unnecessary inventory.
If Electrolux uses 3D printing to produce on-demand parts, it will work with a network of 3D printing service providers, like Spare Parts 3D, to make the parts near the actual demand points, to make both rapid shipment and no physical inventory warehousing possible at once.
The feasibility study will perform economical and technical assessments in five steps, starting with Catalogue Selection. Spare Parts 3D will determine the best business case, and the right 3D printing criteria, that will help Electrolux increase its savings, without making additional investments. The startup will do this using two critical factors – 3D printability of the parts, and profitability as a whole. Then Spare Parts 3D will find efficient product parameters and the best materials through industrial engineering, in order to optimize the economic benefits.
Digitalization will be next, and Spare Parts 3D will complete a digital inventory that shows the optimal production parameters for the chosen parts. Once the company completes quality tests and checks on the final printed parts, it will move on to the Profitability Analysis, and compare the costs of 3D printing spare parts vs. producing them by traditional means.
According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, spare parts suppliers are not meeting their customers’ needs. Because of this fact, the report also states that over 85% of spare parts suppliers will integrate disruptive 3D printing technology into their businesses over the next five years, in order to reduce lead time and costs, increase spare parts availability, and keep their customers happy. So it seems like a pretty smart move for Electrolux to get in on the ground floor of 3D printed spare parts, and lead the charge for other companies.
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