AMS Spring 2023

Materialise & Proponent Partner to Shore Up Aerospace Aftermarket Supply Chain

6K SmarTech

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If you’re anything like me, you haven’t thought too much about how 3D printing fits in to the aerospace industry and supply chain. Before now, I would have imagined that the odd part here or there is 3D printed, maybe prototypes for internal designs. If you thought that as well, you could not be further from the truth. The sheer volume of parts 3D printed in this sector is quite astounding.

However, a new partnership between Materialise and Proponent will work on evolving and expanding this even further. Materialise uses its more than three decades of 3D printing experience for a range of 3D printing services and is a global leader in 3D printing solutions. Proponent is the leading independent global aerospace parts distribution business, providing traditional distribution services to airlines, MROs (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) and OEMs (original equipment manufacturer). Their partnership will elevate the profile of 3D printing in aerospace aftermarket supply chains.

Proponent ships 54 million parts per year to over 6,000 aerospace customers in over 100 countries through its conventional distribution services and its innovative inventory management solutions. A large portion of these components serve the aftermarket with parts designed to go into engines, cockpits, and cabins, as I originally pondered.

Andrew Todhunter, CEO of Proponent, said, “3D printing represents an opportunity to help our OEM and Supplier Partners to become more efficient in their supply chains and complements our stocking distribution model. Producing customized parts or small production runs through AM gives us an opportunity to source on-demand, sustainably, and avoid high minimum order quantities. Our customers get what they need, when they need it, and OEMs avoid the cost and risks that come with manufacturing these parts.”

In the partnership agreed upon at MRO Europe in Amsterdam, the companies set out to explore ways to help aerospace OEMs access the benefits of 3D printing. Though 3D printing has so far been the area of specialist engineering departments in aerospace companies, Proponent and Materialise ideate a digital supply chain which would enable on-demand manufacturing, and 3D printing being brought “into the procurement domain” to make the technology increasingly accessible for MROs to locate 3D printed parts.

Peter Leys, Materialise Executive Chairman, with Proponent CEO Andrew Todhunter, Proponent VP Erik Krol and Materialise Aerospace Business Development Manager Rico Engelman at the agreement signing at MRO Europe

Bart Van der Schueren, Materialise CTO, commented, “Open solutions and a collaborative approach have always been crucial to Materialise. Today we are excited to combine our capabilities as an EASA 21.G-certified production organization with Proponent’s reach and central position in the aerospace supply chain. This brings 3D printing technology right in the comfort zone of the aerospace industry’s well-established supply chains.”

The crux of the partnership is that Materialise and Proponent are looking to partner with aerospace OEMs and suppliers to offer airlines and MROs a one-stop-shop answer for aftermarket parts where 3D printing is featured alongside other manufacturing technologies.

In its service to aircraft OEMs, MROs and supplier tiers, Materialise has created a deep knowledge base in the aerospace market. The company has supplied an estimated 26,000 parts per year for the Airbus A350 system and wields two 3D printing processes to tend to the aviation leader, transforming into the first supplier to be qualified by Airbus to produce laser sintered parts under its Airbus Process Specification AIPS 03-07-022 in May.

As you can see, Materialise and Proponent plan to take their sizeable presence in the aerospace industry and revolutionize it even further. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this partnership, and how the two could potentially revolutionize supply chains.

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