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From physical to digital warehouse with 3D printing

Not only can production be optimized with additive manufacturing, but also the entire supply chain.

Looking only at the 3D printing price of individual components does not do justice to the potential of additive manufacturing by far. The major economic benefits can be achieved if the entire production process is considered, including the supply chain.

When people talk about 3D printing, the image of a small FDM printer is still anchored in too many people's minds. An acquaintance or a colleague prints small utility parts or a Star Wars figure at home. On the other hand, well-known companies produce additively manufactured parts on a large scale. BMW, for example, manufactures 300,000 3D printed parts annually1 and builds them into cars. What's more, you hear time and time again that 3D printing has enormous potential. But how can smaller or medium-sized companies that can't afford a printer also benefit from it?


The strengths of additive manufacturing

The advantages of additive manufacturing are quickly explained. There are hardly any initial costs, and even single pieces or small quantities can be manufactured cost-effectively. Likewise, complex designs are not a factor that would drive up the price(see blog Price Factors). Another plus point is the high flexibility. The design can be continuously adapted during a series production if necessary. Or completely individualized parts can be produced, for example for orthotics in medical technology.

The design freedom of additive manufacturing, together with optimized topologies and lattice structures, enables an unprecedented quality of lightweight components. Assemblies can be combined and unnecessary weak points avoided. Functions can also be integrated.

The prejudice that 3D printed parts are not robust is outdated. The additively manufactured parts from industrial printers can easily compete with conventionally manufactured parts in terms of stability. The material density is over 99%. The decisive factor is the material selected. In addition, parts can be processed with composite materials such as Duraform HST, or reinforced with continuous fibers such as Kevlar or glass fibers.

Another advantage is sustainability. Material efficiency is very high. The raw material in powder form that is not processed during the printing process is recycled. The energy input for the printers is also very small in relation to the overall manufacturing process of a component.

But all these advantages are just one aspect of why the potential of additive manufacturing is considered by experts to be very high.



Challenges in the supply chain


Value chains are complex. That they are also highly susceptible to geopolitical events has become unpalatably clear in recent months. Unavailable raw materials, long delivery times and interrupted transport chains are no longer a rarity. Prices are rising massively due to energy shortages, and dependence on suppliers can have a negative impact depending on their location. Not to mention, warehouse space has always been expensive and companies are trying to find an optimal balance between low inventory levels and delivery capabilities.

With all of these challenges, 3D printing offers unprecedented opportunities. Combined with a "digital" warehouse, some problems can be mitigated.



Sustainability in the supply chain: the digital inventory convinces


The warehouse is exposed to different demands. On the one hand, there should be high availability for spare parts so that customers can be supplied quickly. On the other hand, inventories must be kept low so as not to tie up unnecessary capital, keyword "trade working capital". In addition, conventional production methods often require a high batch size to make the unit price of parts affordable.

With additive manufacturing, a new option is available. Components or spare parts are not produced in unnecessarily large quantities and placed in stock, but are stored digitally as CAD data together with the production parameters. As simple as this sounds, the advantages are great.

As soon as necessary, the parts are produced in small quantities close by. In the Jellypipe network, for example, only carefully selected print partners are available who produce in Europe. Delivery routes are short and global supply chain disruptions hardly play a role anymore.

This data warehousing is particularly suitable for spare parts, for so-called "slow movers", i.e. parts that are rarely needed. In addition, older parts that are no longer available can be replaced.

Spare parts for classic cars are a good example. For example, reverse engineering is used to create 3D print data for rubber seals for an older generation of vehicles. The required quantity is then produced and the file is kept with the manufacturing information.

Conclusion: The advantages are obvious

  • Production is more resource-efficient and sustainable
  • Supply chains are significantly shortened
  • Significantly less storage space is required
  • No unnecessary overproduction
  • Avoidance of initial costs for tools and fixtures

Would you like to learn more about digital spare parts warehouses, or about 3D printing in general? Contact us or one of our Solution Partners. We will be happy to advise you.

Your Jellypipe

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Dominik Estermann
Chief Executive Officer

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