Innovating spare parts logistics with 3D printing

3D printing is revolutionising the way spare parts is managed. By Cathy Morrow Roberson (Logistics Trends & Insights) and Ian Kerr (Postal Hub Podcast)

Credit: Daimler

3D printing is revolutionising the way spare parts is managed. Typically an expensive part of the supply chain, the management is often based on ‘just-in-time’ deliveries in order to keep inventory levels low. However, transportation costs can be astronomical if not managed appropriately.

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As 3D printing becomes a viable option for spare parts management, a growing number of providers such as DB Schenker and UPS are providing 3D printing services.

DB Schenker allows customers to upload 3D templates via its the online portal eSchenker. Customers can select materials and colour, consult prices, place orders and have the printing delivered. According to DB Schenker, it uses a digital business model within a partner network of start-ups as well as established companies for the actual 3D printing.

Meanwhile, in 2016, UPS announced a distributed, on-demand manufacturing network that links its global logistics network with 3D printers at more than 60 UPS Stores across the U.S and Fast Radius’ On Demand Production Platform and 3D printing factory in Louisville, KY. Furthermore, SAP announced its extended supply chain solutions will be integrated with UPS’s on-demand manufacturing solution and global logistics network to simplify the industrial manufacturing process from digitisation, certification, order-to-manufacturing and delivery.

Zion Market Research expects the global 3D printing metal market to grow from $450 million in 2017 to generate revenue of around $2.3 billion by the end of 2024. Meanwhile, Grand View Research expects the demand for 3D printed plastics to reach $1.98 billion by 2025.

In terms of industry value, a 2014 Deloitte study highlighted two major areas of influence for 3D printing in automotive applications: as a source of product innovation and as a driver of supply chain transformation. Indeed, Ford acquired its first 3D printer in 1988 and today the automotive manufacturer now has 90 installed 3D printers in use in global operations. Applications range from spare parts for its own production lines to 3-D printed brake parts for the 2019 Shelby Mustang GT500. Just recently, Ford announced a $45 million investment into its Advanced Manufacturing Center housing 23 3-D printers.

BMW reported that it had 3D printed its one millionth component in series production since 2010 while Audi established a Competence Centre for 3D Printing in 2016. Meanwhile Daimler announced a spare parts program to 3-D print plastic replacement parts for its Daimler Trucks North America business, as well as a metal 3-D printing program for its Mercedes-Benz Trucks operations.

Similar to Ford, Daimler has had a long history with 3D printing. In its latest move, Mercedes-Benz has expanded its range of replacement parts available via 3D printing, while using the 3D printing process to improve some of the parts, for example remodelling mirrors to allow for an optimised rear view.

According to Mercedes-Benz, anything from engine components to plastic seals and small rubber parts can be 3D printed. The process is particularly well-suited to smaller quantities, and cases where the genuine tools are no longer available.

Volvo Construction Equipment has also introduced 3D printing in order to deliver spare parts to customers faster (thanks in part to significantly reduced lead times) and more efficiently. Since there are no minimum order quantity requirements, Volvo can maintain lower inventory levels in its warehouses.

The automotive industry is certainly not the only industry to embrace 3D printing but it is one of the largest and also one that is undergoing significant disruption as it embraces electric and autonomous vehicles. 3D printing provides a number of benefits to the supply chain including lower transportation and inventory costs.

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