Volume 19 | Issue 2 | Year 2016

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The differences by manufacturing value chain are notable, with the greatest adoption rates in the technology-oriented and brand-oriented value chains. Figure 1 depicts how IDC Manufacturing Insights categorizes manufacturers by value chain, based on the similarity of how the segments design, manufacture, and deliver their products to market.

Taking a closer look at how manufacturers are currently using 3D printing reveals nuances by value chain. The greatest application of 3D printing today is for prototyping, indicated by 51 percent of respondents that are using or planning to use 3D printing. Manufacturers from automotive to consumer packaging are finding that the applying the technology to the prototyping phase is faster and more cost effective. The second most popular application is manufacturing parts, with 47 percent of companies using or planning to use 3D printing for this. Other key applications include manufacturing new products and packaging. Table 1 highlights the priorities for 3D printing by manufacturing value chain.

One of the applications for 3D printing that we are watching closely is the growing application of 3D printing technologies for the service and spare parts supply chain in manufacturing. While the survey data indicates that 28 percent of respondents are using or planning to use 3D printing for this purpose, IDC Manufacturing Insights expects to see these numbers increase in the coming years, especially for specific areas within the spare parts supply chain. In our IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Manufacturing Product and Service Innovation 2016 Predictions we state: By 2017, manufacturers will use 3D printing to support the spare parts/service parts supply chain for 30 percent of retired/end-of-life products and 50 percent of low-volume parts.

The service life-cycle is ripe for 3D printing technology for a number of reasons. Historically, discrete manufacturers have tied a significant amount of resources and capital in managing spare parts throughout the service supply chain to meet SLA’s and customer needs. Increased volume of machine models, longer equipment life, and variations of product to meet localized demand are all contributing to an increase in the total number of unique parts a typical OEM has to manage. Some service supply chains manage millions of unique parts scattered globally across distribution warehouses, service depots, field service trucks, and customer sites. The expense of maintaining parts inventory for long-lived equipment, parts that in some cases are now discontinued, is a significant source of pain for some manufacturing service organizations. Often, the mindset is to increase stock to ensure parts availability and meet customer service expectations. New technologies like 3D printing have the potential to make a significant change to this costly model of service parts inventory management.

Early use cases of 3D printing for the service lifecycle are intriguing. Here are just a few to whet the innovator’s appetite:

  • Maersk has installed 3D printers on some of its tanker vessels for on-site printing of repair parts.
  • The U.S. Navy repaired an AV-8B Harrier jet that suffered damage to its frame during an emergency landing on the USS Bataan carrier using an extrusion-based technology.
  • NASA is using additive technologies to assist with future repairs in space. There is a 3D printer aboard the International Space Station that has been used to create parts and tools in space.
  • Airbus is using 3D printing to prototype new windshield wiper designs for its subsidiary Airbus Helicopters. In addition, the company has used the technology with Rolls-Royce to print significant parts for the Trent XWB-97 engine that will power the wide-bodied Airbus A350-1000, which is slated to be operational in 2017.

These examples scratch the surface of the potential for 3D printing technologies to disrupt the service supply chain, bringing tangible benefits in the way of cost savings, efficiency gains, and reduction in equipment downtime. While there are still a number of questions and considerations about the best applications near-term, it is undeniable that 3D printing will be a transformational technology for the service life-cycle.

IDC Manufacturing Insights
As Research Manager, Heather Ashton is responsible for research and analysis of key trends, technologies, and best practices in delivering service life-cycle management (SLM), leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) to support after-sales strategies, managing warranty operations, and providing the customer with a unified brand experience for the life of the relationship. Ms. Ashton also supports research in the engineering- and technology-oriented value chains in manufacturing. Prior to joining IDC Insights, Ms. Ashton spent more than 15 years in market research and the IT industry, most recently as Principal at AM Consulting Services, where she engaged in consulting projects with software vendors and market research firms on topics as diverse as cloud computing, business intelligence and analytics, social business, sustainability, and business process management. Ms. Ashton regularly contributes to the manufacturing blogs on the IDC Manufacturing Insights Community (https://idc-community.com/manufacturing) and tweets (@hashtonIDC) about business and IT issues relevant to connected products, aftersales service, customer experience for manufacturers, and more.

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