Jun 6, 2016 | By Benedict

Boulanger, a French supplier of home appliances and multimedia, has, in collaboration with Cults 3D, launched an online platform for 3D printable spare parts. The platform, called ‘Happy 3D’, currently lists spare parts for products made by two exclusive Boulanger brands, Listo and Essentiel B.

For some time now, 3D printing has been earmarked as a potentially game-changing solution to the problems associated with buying and selling spare parts. Currently, manufacturers tend to keep a supply of spare parts for when a customer needs something fixed. If a product breaks, the customer can order an appropriate spare part from the manufacturer or distributor, fixing the product themselves or with the help of a professional. It sounds sensible enough, but there are limits on how effective this system can be.

Since manufacturers can’t be totally sure which of their components will need replacing five or ten years down the line, it’s often a guessing game as to how many spare parts they should retain. Get this guess wrong, and the costs could be significant: if supply outstrips demand, the company will have a huge pile of obsolete gaskets, screws, and wires serving no particular purpose except to waste money and warehouse space; if demand outstrips supply, the company then has to explain to the customer that there are no more spare parts—potentially damaging their reputation in the process—or go back and make another smaller and potentially much more costly run of those parts.

3D printing and digital spare part repositories could soon change the whole system of spare and replacement parts, benefiting both the manufacturer and consumer. By storing components in digital form, rather than keeping a large supply of physical parts, manufacturers could 3D print those parts on-demand, never making too many or too few, or could simply offer the digital parts for customers to 3D print themselves. Theoretically, digitally rendered spare parts for decades-old equipment could even be created by reverse-engineering products with the help of 3D scanning technology.

Boulanger, a major French supplier of home appliances and multimedia, has just become one of the first major retailers in the world to adopt this 3D printing system. With the help of Cults 3D, the 3D printing marketplace, Boulanger has launched Happy 3D, an online database of free 3D printable spare parts for Boulanger products, including remote control covers, refrigerator feet, and appliance dials and buttons. Boulanger has already published 120 spare part templates, along with recommended printer settings, and has promised further uploads in the near future. The company has also set up an online forum to help customers with the 3D printing process, and has even integrated the service with 3D Hubs, enabling customers without a 3D printer to find their nearest machine and print the part they need with the help of a third party.

“To slow product obsolescence, customers must be able to repair their own high-tech devices and household appliances,” said Gaële Wuilmet, Director of Boulanger Services & Innovation. “It’s in this spirt that Boulanger decided to launch the world’s first spare parts open source hub called the ‘Happy 3D’ platform. This is the first time ever that a company has published the blueprints of its own exclusive brands for the general public. In doing so, Boulanger hopes that other major brands will soon follow our lead.”

To coincide with the launch of Happy 3D, Boulanger’s B’Dom personal services offshoot has created a special training session, two and a half hours long, called ‘My 3D Printer & Me’. The session, which takes the form of an in-home visit, teaches beginners how to install, configure, and use a 3D printer. The course, which is currently only available in Paris, costs €229, 50% of which is tax deductible. Boulanger also sells 21 models of 3D printer, with prices starting at €300.

By uploading 3D printable spare parts for its Listo and Essential B products, Boulanger is essentially cutting out a huge—and potentially redundant—area of its after-sales experience. Since the digital files it has published are free to download, the company will make no money from those parts, but it will save money on storage, staffing, and manufacturing costs. While this model would not suit all business—some, of course, make a healthy profit from spare part sales—the launch of Happy 3D could prove to be an important milestone in the gradual shift towards digital spare part repositories.



Posted in 3D Design



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