As the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to pick up steam (or should we say Gigabytes?), digitalisation is affecting all manner of industries, including manufacturing. One of the issues that digitalisation may be able to address in the manufacturing industry is that of the storage and production of spare parts to meet aftermarket needs.
Traditionally, replacement and spare parts have been stored on warehouse shelves after having been produced alongside the original components. They are produced as ‘back-ups’ for repairs and maintenance purposes. Although some may be used somewhere down the line, many of these parts end up taking up space for years to come, kept just in case they are needed. Once out of production, many of these parts become fully obsolete.
An example of spares produced in great quantities takes place in the automotive industry. Due to the unpredictability of human behaviour, it’s almost impossible to project the right numbers to ensure that the right stock of parts will be available as needed in helpful proximity. Thus, a large number of spare parts are produced, requiring a large physical space – and it’s upkeep – as well as staff to keep the facility running.
What is a digital inventory?
The underlying principle of a digital inventory is having design files for components stored digitally and having parts made on-demand; this instead of stocking physical warehouses with spare parts en-masse that may not be in demand at any given time.
How does 3D printing enable digital inventory solutions?
With a digital inventory, a warehouse can be replaced with on-demand production facilities located where they are most needed.
- Digital files are sent to the production facility
- These files are 3D-printed on-site
- The process is repeated as new parts are required.
The benefits of a digital inventory system include:
- Less warehouse space and resources needed
- Fewer (or zero) obsolete parts
- Less transport required as production facilities are smaller and can be more localised
- Reduces the time a customer has to wait for a needed part
- Lowers the carbon footprint of the manufacturing and logistics process.
What’s holding the industry back?
On-demand manufacturing using digital inventories, and 3D printing is still in its infancy, and there are some paradigms that need to shift, and systems that need to be put in place before the technology is widely adopted.
Critical considerations include:
- Preserving intellectual property amid the widespread sharing of digital files
- Consistency and quality of parts produced, regardless of where they are made
- Training and upskilling a new workforce
- Changing the mindsets of suppliers and customers to embrace a new way of doing things
Nevertheless, the adoption of additive manufacturing (3D printing) will lead to the adoption of new best practices in global manufacturing and supply chain management. Where is your company along its journey to digital transformation?
The team at Ahkani 3D have many years of experience in the field and are well-positioned to guide and advise on the many uses of 3D printing. Contact us to find out more about how we can help you explore the possibilities: https://akhani3d.com/