Given how nascent this manufacturing technique is, however, it’s understandable that questions and adoption challenges still abound. Here, we help you gain access to the information you need—through the insights of Burloak Technologies’ leading experts—so you can navigate this new terrain with confidence.
In this installment, we chat with Arash Bazrafshan, Burloak’s Director of Business Development, about how leading organizations can use AM to shift their approach to spare parts management.
- Why is it important for manufacturers to better manage their spare part inventories of legacy components—and how can Additive Manufacturing help?
While spare parts are necessary to have on-hand in the event of equipment breakdown, effectively managing your inventory of spare parts comes with a host of challenges.
First, there’s the cost of ordering them. Typically, when ordering traditional parts, manufacturers strive to keep costs low by ordering in larger volumes. This allows parts manufacturers to spread fixed costs, like those for tool manufacturing and setup, across a large number of parts. The problem with spare parts is that they’re only needed occasionally—and are consequently produced in smaller volumes. This results in a higher cost per part.
Second, the traditional manufacturing of spare parts often comes with long lead times. Finding the right spare part, and then receiving it from the other side of the world, can take weeks, if not months—which is less-than-ideal if your operations rely on it. This makes it essential to keep some parts on hand.
But even keeping an inventory of spare parts is often problematic because it’s difficult to determine precisely how much inventory to store. If your stock is too low, you may not have a part when you need it. If you err on the side of caution, and stock a lot, you’re left maintaining (and paying for) a warehouse full of excess inventory.
Additive Manufacturing can help mitigate some of these challenges by empowering manufacturers to have their parts printed on demand.
- How can manufacturers begin using AM to improve spare parts management?
AM can resolve many spare parts inventory management challenges because it can economically print parts as needed. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, it doesn’t require expensive tooling and it’s also relatively easy to set up. This reduces its associated fixed costs—eliminating the need to produce parts in large quantities.
However, using AM effectively isn’t simply a matter of creating a digital file to print your spare parts. For this to work, AM must be incorporated into the manufacturing process from the outset. To ensure compatibility and optimal functionality, you need to consider the downstream issues related to spare parts management right from the product development phase. That way, you can design your parts to be printable.
In many cases, this may mean revisiting your product design using Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) principles. It may also mean using different materials. So it takes advance planning. On the plus side, though, adopting this approach can go a long way towards reducing your inventory costs.
Applied to spare parts management, this could help you transition to a made-to-order model that allows prospective customers to order parts from a virtual catalogue—enabling you to offer lower-demand parts and even obsolete components. It can also help you reshore your manufacturing to reduce shipping costs and delays.
This practice is already gaining popularity in regions across the world. The Dutch Railways, for instance, has replaced dozens of train parts with AM printed parts, allowing the company to acquire replacement parts in days, rather than weeks.
- If a manufacturer is considering AM for their spare parts management, what should they look for in an AM partner?
For one thing, it’s best to find a vertically integrated supplier because this type of AM partner provides end-to-end solutions and a seamless AM experience. At Burloak, for example, we support companies throughout the entire spare parts manufacturing lifecycle—including application and process design, materials testing, additive manufacturing, post-processing and quality assurance.
You also want to find a company with substantial AM experience. Our customers have direct access to leading AM professionals—individuals who have extensive experience manufacturing spare parts for a wide range of industries, including aviation, space, energy and industrial manufacturing.
Additionally, it’s important to find an AM provider with manufacturing facilities close by. At Burloak, we offer two North American facilities—our Centre for Additive Manufacturing Excellence in Oakville, Ontario and our production facility in Camarillo, California. This puts us closer to local manufacturers, reducing over-reliance on global shipping.
To learn more about Burloak, and how we can help transform your business models to achieve a sustainable future, contact us.