Aging assets have long been the culprits behind common supply chain disruptions like unexpected downtime and production delays. They can have a direct impact on revenues and service levels, and the older they get, the more costly the risks they pose are. Having aging equipment is inevitable, so companies try to mitigate these risks by scheduling service and repair actions, monitoring assets with sensors, bulking up stock across the globe, or coming up with strategies to minimize the impact of downtime. But as everyone in supply chain knows, things rarely go exactly as planned.
Getting spare parts for aging assets is particularly challenging. Often, suppliers have gone out of business, and engineers have little to no technical data to reproduce the part. In cases where a supplier can provide parts, there is usually a minimum order quantity (MOQ) and very long lead times. Not an ideal situation when you need to get your equipment up and running again as fast as possible.
Embedding additive manufacturing (AM) into your supply chain can help you speed up lead times for spares and deal more quickly with aging equipment issues. The key is to look at AM adoption not as an end goal in itself but as a means to address supply challenges and optimize operations. Your data is a good place to start.
Supply platforms for distributed 3D manufacturing through a network of certified AM partners are available to help. OEMs and other companies in the transport and defense industries, are leveraging such platforms to tackle immediate issues, such as re-engineering and ordering spare parts on demand. Analytics within the platform can be used to take a more proactive approach—by performing data analysis to understand which legacy parts will cause a supply chain disruption in the first place and building a digital inventory they can tap into to place orders on demand. This union of AM and supply chain analytics offers enticing benefits to move beyond firefighting in the spare parts domain. It also frees up capital often used to buy inventory gets scrapped due to overstocking.
JLG, which makes and sells access equipment, is working with DiManEx to produce a critical plastic part for aerial work platforms. Without this part, the machines don’t work. The part had to be replaced in five of these platforms. JLG’s clients, equipment rental companies, needed to ensure a part replacement as fast as possible to maintain customer service levels. However, the part was out of stock and its supplier had a lead time of four weeks. The machine rental is €450 per day, so a downtime of four weeks would cost JLG’s customers €9,000. To address this issue, JLG used DiManEx’s digital supply chain platform. The parts were secured within a week, potentially saving JLG’s customers thousands of dollars. This pilot served to help JLG experiment with 3D printing and find the right approach to embrace the technology while facilitating collaboration between the company’s quality control and supply chain divisions.
Many OEMs are discovering AM can help to minimize supply chain disruptions caused by aging equipment. The transport industry is also catching on.
Dutch Railways, for instance, worked with DiManEx to produce a frame for train radios. Without it, coaches cannot run, bringing rolling stock to a standstill. The MOQ for these frames is prohibitive from a cost perspective. They would have to order at least 100 parts when they only needed 10. 3D printing offered a good alternative, as parts could be produced on demand without creating excess stock. Lead times with 3D printing were also brought down from months to weeks.
For companies that embrace 3D printing in their supply chain, this is just the beginning: The emergence of new materials and machines is bound to increase the optimization potential. Embedding digital inventory in your industrial supply chain can significantly reduce downtime, shorten lead times, and guarantee that you keep up your service levels. The ability to supply any part anywhere will truly disrupt industrial supply chains.