Apr 1, 2016 | By Benedict

Aalto University and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd have begun a research project focused on the development of 3D printed spare parts. Aalto and VTT will work with thirteen participating companies, studying operating and earnings models in order to establish a functional network.

3D printing has long been earmarked as the perfect solution to the problem of hard-to-source, obsolete, or expensive spare parts. The U.S. Navy has already installed 3D printing facilities aboard some of its aircraft carriers so that crew members can quickly produce spare parts for essential machinery, while NASA has been working on a similar principle by sending 3D printers to the International Space Station. However, despite a widespread understanding of how additive manufacturing can be used to create spare parts, there is still a surprising shortage of functional 3D printed spare part networks throughout the industrial sector.

Aalto and VTT joined forces in late February 2016 in order to right this wrong. By working with thirteen Finnish companies, the two organizations hope to lay the foundations for the building of a digital spare part network, by researching operating and earnings models and assessing the current and future technological potential of 3D printing. The project has been established to promote the transition from traditional production chains of spare parts to a dynamic network model, one which uses digitization and 3D printing technology to generate added value.

The proposed digital framework is a simple and sensible one: information about existing spare parts would be transferred and stored in a digital format. These digitally preserved spare parts could then be 3D printed when required, at the closest geographical proximity to the end user’s premises. At present, the industrial sector possesses no such digital spare parts network. Instead, many large production plants dedicate large storage areas to spare parts, where large numbers of spare parts lay dormant for extended periods of time.

Wärtsilä, one of the thirteen companies participating in the project, is a corporation which manufactures power sources and other equipment in the marine and energy markets. The company, established centuries before 3D printing technology became commonplace, admits to using up significant resources in its currently un-digitized spare parts operations: “In companies like Wärtsilä, the capital tied up in materials and equipment may amount to hundreds of millions of euros,” explained Jarno Salonen, Business Development Manager at Wärtsilä. “If we could release, say, even 5% of this capital by means of digitization, the impact would be substantial.”

Another of the participating companies, 3DTech Oy, has emphasized the importance of the all-Finnish project in setting an example to the global industrial sector. "We expect the project to create new international business opportunities," said Tomi Kalpio, Co-Owner and Co-Founder of 3DTech Oy.

There are, of course, important precautions that need to be taken when considering the digitization of spare parts and the establishment of an industry-wide 3D printing network. Considerations include the operational reliability of critical parts, materials offering, issues related to data security, digitization of large and complex parts, and the means by which a functional service chain could be created.

The project, funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, will cost approximately €1.4 million ($1.58 million). The full list of participating companies is as follows: 3D Online Factory Ltd, 3DTech Oy, AM Finland Oy, Hetitec Oy, Kone Corporation, Laserle Oy, Materflow Oy, Multiprint 3D Oy, Patria Aviation Oy, Raute Corporation, Rolls-Royce Oy Ab, Sacotec Components Oy, and Wärtsilä Finland Oy.

An open interactive workshop will be held on April 8, 2016, at which organizers will present the goals of the project. The thirteen participating companies will be invited to share their own views on the digitization and 3D printing of spare parts.

The project is part of a wider initiative from Tekes to restore the Finnish manufacturing industry, via both 3D printing technology and other means. The governmental department has also worked with VINNOVA, its Swedish equivalent, to create a Nordic axis for the renovation of the industry.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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