3D printing pays off for spare parts, experts say

December 16, 2019 //By Christoph Hammerschmidt
3D printing pays off for spare parts, experts say
Additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) of spare parts - does it pay off? Yes, says Jakob Heinen, PhD, Kühne Logistics University in Hamburg. Together with Prof. Dr. Kai Hoberg, Head of Logistics and Professor of Supply Chain and Operations Strategy at the same university, he has developed an optimization model that uses real data to show how 3D printing can be beneficial in many cases – with enlightening results.

3D printing is already used in many industries. Examples include light aircraft components, customized medical devices, and ready-to-use tools. This production technology has also proven itself for individual spare parts. But is it also worth it on a larger scale? Supply chain experts have developed an optimization model that takes the entire spare parts portfolio into account for the first time. The model was applied to a large real data set of a leading vehicle manufacturer, comprising more than 50,000 spare parts from nine years.

The result of the researcher’s work: 3D printing is a sensible economic alternative for a considerable proportion of spare parts. This is especially true for rarely requested parts in small quantities. "As part of customer service, manufacturers also supply their own vehicles, which have long since been phased out from series production. Spare parts are then often required less than once a year. It is precisely in these cases that 3D printing can be cheaper than traditional manufacturing," explains Heinen. "The production costs per unit are often significantly higher than in traditional manufacturing. But instead of being tied to minimum quantities and building up large stocks, companies can produce the quantity they actually need. This saves years of storage costs." Service can also be improved with this technology, as a manufacturer can react more quickly to customer requests.

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