Additive manufacturing: The key to smarter maintenance?
3D printing technology, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is evolving to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of the manufacturing industry. There seems to be a sea of opportunities for this technology in the Aerospace and Automotive sectors due to their need for high-value complex part replacements, the periodicity of maintenance and the need to reduce inventories. While most of us believe that this technology might still be at a nascent stage, we ought to take a closer look at its adoption in the high-tech and industrial manufacturing sectors. The US Department of Defense, supported by a consortium of private companies, has recognized this as a key growth area and announced plans to fund 2 new world class manufacturing innovation centers in the region this year. With the technology to print living tissues today, it makes us think that 'Dolly' could have just been printed out without much ado.
The IT industry sees a gamut of opportunities in the 3D printing arena, particularly in the areas of digitization, engineering and supply chain management reconfiguration. The Infosys whitepaper titled The Future of Maintenance discusses 3D printing as a solution for optimization of maintenance costs which will help flatten supply chain and procurement expenditure on industrial machinery and capital goods. The entire blueprint of the component procurement space will have to be redrafted by substituting these revenues with the sale of custom specifications for each part 3D printed at the end customer location. Gone will be the days when a customer places an order for a part and waits patiently for door delivery with an additional day's wait for a service mechanic to assemble the part. If you perceived Amazon's superfast drone or the Rolls Royce Cargo Drone ships to be your solution, wouldn't 3D printing make the process much simpler - or not. That's quite a debate.
If you thought that the demand for customization and shorter delivery timelines have brought our production hubs closer to home turf from low cost centers like China, you are at a greater advantage having a 3D printer installed at your production house. Companies are now embracing backward integration strategies by turning into part manufacturers, replacing their OEM suppliers fractionally to start with. The cost of purchasing a 3D printer along with the raw materials and IP will be offset by added energy efficiency, less to no wastage of materials used in the process, the elimination of shipping costs and the ability to create prototypes that would have otherwise consumed expensive resources and larger timelines.
Are we moving to an era where construction, manufacturing, design, engineering and medical care are all going to be a DIY affair? It's too soon to assume, but we sure are inching closer.