3D Printing & Digital Inventory — Accelerating Satellite Manufacturing

For manufacturing companies looking to revolutionise their responsiveness to customer spare parts demand, 3D printing opens up compelling opportunities. Today, 3DPRINTUK is promoting its ability to act as a satellite manufacturing facility for any overseas manufacturers to service UK spare part demand by curating their digital inventory.

The advantages of 3D printing — promoting design freedom, attainment of hitherto impossible geometric complexity, no tooling (saving time and money), speedy and cost-effective production, and mass customisation — are now well-known and accepted throughout industry. However, the impact that 3D printing can have on inventory is less well rehearsed, as are the ways that manufacturers can use digital inventory to enhance their responsiveness to customer demands wherever in the world their customers are. The key is that 3D printing means that parts can be made on demand and delivered to customers in any geography from anywhere in the world.

In general terms, spare parts management benefits from the agility, cost-effectiveness, and increasingly material agnostic nature of 3D printing, and also the fact that the technology is cost-effective for producing single items or low volume runs. The same cannot be said of traditional manufacturing processes, where production runs are only cost-effective in high volumes.

Generally speaking companies do not like to hold large volumes of stock. 3D printing of spare parts can cut costs, increase the functionality of parts, add a high degree of flexibility and responsiveness in service, and reduce risks. It also means that spare parts can be printed on demand, slashing the costs associated with having to hold high stocks levels of all spare parts, and also reducing the reliance on supply chains (often international supply chains) meaning spare parts can be printed locally in the numbers required.

Digital Inventory and Satellite Manufacturing

Nick Allen, Managing Director at 3DPRINTUK says, “At 3DPRINTUK, we hold digital files — effectively digital inventory — on behalf of customers, and our customers also hold digital inventories stored in-house on local computers or in the cloud. This means that these customers can drastically reduce stock levels, and can activate the production of any spare parts in any volume required at the click of a mouse. This is true just-in-time manufacturing and is possible using 3D printing, as production is direct from design files and does not require time-consuming and costly production of tools. As such, at 3DPRINTUK we are a critical part of a truly digital workflow, completely revolutionising the ways that manufacturers view the need for warehousing and associated logistical costs, and taking an enormous strain off the balance sheet.”

Another advantage is that 3D printing from a digital inventory can localise production. Multi-national companies with production facilities in various geographies can print the spare parts needed as close to the customer as possible, therefore reducing the time and cost associated with international and often long-haul shipping.

With this in mind, expert 3D printing service suppliers such as 3DPUK act as satellite manufacturing facilities for international manufacturers with customers they want to service in the United Kingdom.

Physical warehouses are costly and time-consuming

Allen continues, “Consider a manufacturer based in the United States, with sales offices and customers across the world, but only one large manufacturing facility in New Jersey. Before the digital workflow possibilities that exist via 3D printing, this company would either have to hold large stocks of spare parts in costly and extensive warehouse facilities, and take on the expense of shipping them all over the world, or would just not provide a spare parts service which would have a significant impact on customer retention. Today, that company can hold an array of spare part design files in the cloud, make amends to them over time to enhance their look, feel, or effectiveness, have them printed-on-demand by 3DPRINTUK for all UK customers (and by equivalent 3DP service suppliers in other countries), and they can be delivered in the hands of a customer in as little as 3 working days.”

3DPRINTUK welcomes the opportunity to discuss how it can help to streamline the approach of manufacturers to inventory as a satellite manufacturing partner, and at the same time enhance their agility and responsiveness to customer demand.