Nov 17, 2017 | By Benedict

Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre and Aalto University have released findings from their two-year industry research project that investigates how businesses can use digital, 3D printable spare parts to their advantage. The project is valued at around 1.4 million euros ($1.65M).

Back in April 2016, we reported that VTT Finland and Aalto University had joined forces on a two-year project to investigate the use of 3D printable spare parts. Thirteen companies were said to be participating in the massive study, which would aim to provide clear answers about how businesses can best make use of digital spare part libraries.

Now, as the end of that two-year project approaches, the Finnish institutions have publicized some of their findings. And as one might expect, 3D printing comes with a big seal of approval.

According to VTT Finland and Aalto University, around five per cent of all spare parts could be stored digitally, rather than in expensive and crowded storage facilities. And this transformation could benefit businesses in a big way: digitalization, the researchers say, also allows for easy access, significant cost savings, and the ability to customize parts.

“Industry now has every opportunity to boost business by making spare parts into a focus area of development,” says Sini Metsä-Kortelainen, VTT's project manager for the research. “3D printing technology has reached the stage where high-quality manufacturing is possible.”

Metsä-Kortelainen and the other researchers working on the project are becoming more and more convinced that 3D printable part libraries could be an ideal solution for companies who are being forced to maintain large spare part warehouses, in which many spare parts never get used.

With digital part libraries, there is no such wastage of resources.

"Capital is released for more productive use when stock decreases,” explains Mika Salmi, Aalto University’s project manager for the research. “Demand-based manufacturing also reduces the environmental burden, because spare parts are not left unused. Another major opportunity lies in reducing downtimes through faster spare-part manufacture.”

But while five per cent is a significant figure, that figure alone doesn’t help businesses identify which parts should be digitalized and which should remain as physical stock. Fortunately, the Finnish research group has honed in on what it believes are the most suitable items.

The project has found that extremely old or rarely needed parts are most suitable for digitalization and eventual 3D printing. It makes sense: parts that are newer and frequently required may as well be kept in stock for easy access since there will be a constant demand for them; those that are rarely needed, however, should not be kept in physical stock at the expense of the manufacturer.

Even for old an rarely used parts, however, there remains a big challenge: turning parts that have been made via traditional manufacturing methods into 3D printable models. This means businesses must identify which parts can be made 3D printable, and then go about the somewhat tricky process of reverse engineering them for digitalization.

The Finland-based researchers comment that the automotive industry is currently doing a good job of digitalizing old spare parts.

The research doesn’t just advocate turning old products into 3D printable ones though. It also suggests modernizing certain spare parts by incorporating identifiers or sensors, additions that can facilitate the easy monitoring of machines and equipment as well as the authentication of certain parts.

One particularly useful addition of this kind is a “wear sensor,” which can alert businesses if a spare part is worn down and needs replacing. (Futuristic versions could even trigger the automatic fabrication of a replacement 3D printed part.)

The 1.4 million euro ($1.65M) research project is part of Tekes' Industrial Internet program, and is carried out in partnership with the Finnish Technology Industries Federation.

Participating companies include 3DTech Oy, ABB Oy Drives, AM Finland Oy, Hetitec Oy, Kone Corporation, Laserle Oy, Materflow Oy, Grano Oy, Patria Aviation Oy, Raute Corporation, Rolls-Royce Oy Ab, Sacotec Components Oy and Wärtsilä Finland Oy.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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