What comes to mind when you hear the term 3D printing? Medical devices? Aftermarket spare parts? Robots taking over the world? Don’t worry – even if Alexa is starting to randomly laugh at her users – future thinking companies are embracing this new technology in truly logical and effective ways.

3D printing has long been used in manufacturing to create part prototypes. But now, with the advances made to the already mind-blowing technology, they can print parts in metal to create actual replacement aftermarket spare parts. And as the technology continues to advance, the impact 3D printing could have on parts inventory levels, warehouse needs and the logistics of moving parts from one location to another could be monumental. These factors will lead to reduced cost and faster repair times – meaning more revenue for the manufacturer, and better experiences for the end-user.

We’ve been sharing incredible insights from industry thought leaders into this year’s trends and topics affecting after-sales service from our eBook, “2018 After-sales Service Predictions: Strategies for Empowering Manufacturers to Deliver Game-Changing Value.” This week, we passed the mic to Gene Metheny of Carlisle & Company to give us his take on major trends that could fundamentally change entire industries in 2018. Here’s what he had to say about 3D printing and its impact on manufacturing today.

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The pace at which 3D printing capability is being developed is phenomenal, even beating Carlisle’s initial predictions. 3D printing development is twice as fast as we thought it would be, with new innovations coming out almost daily that enable more complex parts to be printed at ever lower cost.

For after-sales service, this emerging technology is particularly useful for slow moving parts and parts for uncommon pieces of equipment. These are expensive parts to procure and stock, often driving 20 to 40 percent of total service parts inventory. Being able to print these aftermarket spare parts on demand can dramatically reduce inventory while providing superior customer service.

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Adoption by manufacturers has been slow, due in large part to getting engineers to review and approve 3D printed designs for these slow moving parts. Very few vehicle manufacturers are printing more than a couple hundred parts. Customers, however, are not waiting. Recently, a leading manufacturer was visiting a mining customer and discovered that the customer was using 3D printing technology to print more than 300 aftermarket spare parts on-site.

There are multiple risks to manufacturers associated with 3D printing, but with the right planning and technologies in place, these leading brands will be equipped to succeed. The amount of parts – both on the forward and aftermarket supply chains – that can be 3D printed cost-effectively is changing very rapidly. Companies should pre-emptively determine what makes sense to 3D print, and ask themselves if a part can be created at a lower total cost, higher quality, or provide faster service.

Additionally, manufacturers will have to focus on the legal aspect of 3D printing to define and protect the original parts of the future. This is needed to prevent customers or 3rd party providers from printing a substandard part and passing it off as “original.”  At every stage of the adoption process manufacturers should collaborate with one another to drive the development of standards governing 3D printing forward.  Ultimately, global consensus on standards will dictate industry wide adoption.

It’s no secret the world is changing, and it’s changing fast. There are multiple trends occurring at one time that could fundamentally change the motor vehicle industry as we know it today. These shifts are forcing vehicle manufacturers to ask themselves, “What will happen in the future, and how should we prepare?”

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Want more insight from Gene Metheny and other industry thought leaders? Download our ebook today to hear more  on the major trends manufacturers will see in 2018 and beyond, and how to implement new business processes and technologies to win.

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