3D-printed spare parts research in Finland

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The manufacture of spare parts via 3D printing has been investigated in a two-year project led by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University as part of the Nordic country’s publicly-funded research.

The outcome is that it suggests that 5% of spare parts could currently be stored in digital warehouses, with parts 3D-printed according to need, close to the end user.

The research project found that digital spare parts are particularly appropriate in the case of extremely old or rarely needed parts, the warehousing or availability of which would not be viable. “We have a lot of individual items and are keenly awaiting the new flexibility and speed 3D production will bring,” says Petri Strengell, Group Vice President of Finish company Raute, which supplies mill-scale production machinery solutions globally to the veneer, plywood and LVL industries.

Picture shows 3D printing of hotplate parts from H13 tool steel.

The researchers say that manufacturers are already using 3D printing in product development and, to an increasing extent, in the production of spare parts. However, most spare parts are designed for manufacture by traditional methods – information that would enable their direct 3D printing is unavailable. The challenge lies in identifying 3D-printable parts from spare part libraries and arranging the data in such a manner that all other manufacturing information is available in addition to 3D models, the researchers suggest. The automotive industry is the first sector to engage in digitalisation, it adds.

The project also involved the development of concepts for the future. Digital manufacturing enables the customisation of parts as needed, making countless numbers of product versions or upgrades possible. In addition, various identifiers or sensors can be added to spare parts during manufacture, enabling the functioning of machines and equipment to be monitored or parts to be authenticated. If a spare part is equipped, say, with a wear sensor, as it wears the part can even initiate the manufacture of a replacement itself.

Participating Finish companies were: 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.