SP3D CSR: 3D Printing Innovation for Sustainability

Point of View | 29 June 2017

Green initiatives for companies are commonly viewed as a necessary additional cost to protect and sustain the environment. At Spare Parts 3D, we believe that 3D printing is a green and socially responsible manufacturing technology that mutually benefits both the business and the environment. Corporate social responsibility is crucial to us, and we aim to create a sustainable business together with our clients through 3D printing innovations.

From Physical to Digital Inventories

The paramount problem within the spare parts industry lies in managing the inventory of spare parts. Many may still hold the mindset of holding on to spares in the event they might need it someday since it doesn’t appear to cost anything for storage. However, having a physical inventory incurs numerous costs of paying premium for insurance which is calculated based on total inventory value as well as wages and utilities for maintenance. These administrative costs add up to approximately 20% more, meaning to say that keeping a $500 motor for a year costs $100, resulting in an overall net loss if a spare is not consumed or sold quickly. Furthermore, from our conversations with spare parts handlers, up to 30% of spare parts are disposed annually from lack of use and mounting warehousing costs.
This problem stems from the unpredictability of breakdowns, i.e. the inability to accurately predict both when and what parts are needed. As a product is as likely to break down in February as it is in December, there is no seasonality or trend to be analysed, making it impossible for spare part handlers to optimize their inventories.

3D printing provides the ideal solution by printing spare parts on demand, creating zero wastage in terms of both producing redundant spares and energy spent on warehousing. When fully adopted, 3D printing will turn physical inventories into digital ones, benefiting business owners and the environment alike.

Lengthening the Product Lifetime

Optimizing the energy efficiency of home appliances is a significant step towards tackling climate change and this challenge is mostly taken up by manufacturers. Lengthening the lifetime of home appliances contributes towards the same effect but comparatively is not as strongly emphasized as energy efficiency. To lengthen one’s product lifetime, the key aspects involves a robust manufacturing process to produce quality parts as well as the ease of reparability.

Home appliances should be repairable in most circumstances with the right parts and know-how. Attention has to be paid to reparability right from the design conception stage so that any repair can be simple with accessible parts and streamlined processes.

Obsolete parts represeshown in common scenarios where a washing machine has to be disposed of due to one missing spare part. According to RREUSE, a European umbrella organization for social enterprises, pointed out that the primary obstacle for repairing home appliances is lack of access to spare parts and cost of spare parts. Traditional plastic manufacturing processes, such as Injection Moulding, is very widely used worldwide but highly ineffective when it comes to producing small production batches. As such it is often uneconomical for plastic manufacturers to supply old and long tail spare parts for product after sales service.

Spare Parts 3D offers a viable solution to this issue as 3D printing is energy-efficient for small or even single-item batches, with no massive tooling needed. Obsolete parts can also be reverse engineered according to demand with no disparity in quality or functionality, providing a cheaper and greener solution in enhancing a product’s lifetime.

Optimising Supply Chain, Reducing Carbon Footprint

 At Spare Parts 3D we use one specific 3D printing method known as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), as it is the most advanced technology for end-use parts. FDM consumes less energy than other technologies such as Stereolithography (SLA) or Selective laser sintering (SLS), which both involve using a laser. Consequently, being the most energy-efficient method, it can compete with Injection Moulding especially when it comes to low-volume production.

The most significant advantage Spare Parts 3D provides is in reducing carbon footprint by radically cut the supply chain. One additional advantage of producing on-demand as mentioned earlier is in eliminating the need for remote warehouses. This is the crux in reducing the environmental as production using 3D printing or plastic injection are largely equivalent from the perspective of energy consumed. The differentiating factor is in transportation. The current Injection Moulding manufacturing model implies a fragmented supply chain made up of centralized facilities. In this supply chain system, there are numerous stages involving different aspects of producing, storing and distributing. Each of these stages consume fuel and produce waste, as illustrated below. For us here at Spare Parts 3D, the process is strictly limited to the last mile delivery.

Comparing the two models of supply chains, the carbon footprint of a spare part produced through the Traditional Supply Chain amounts to approximately 138.22 tons of CO2 while the Additive Manufacturing Supply Chain amounts to 27.22 tons of CO2. This comes up to more than 5 times reduction in carbon footprint.

We also have up to 50 partners worldwide to ensure production is done in the closest proximity to the end user. Furthermore, this manufacturing model also creates social benefits by boosting local employment and stimulating the local economy in the countries where we have implemented production. 

Conclusion

 Spare Parts 3D offers a solution to simplify spare parts management at lower cost, and this solution has a positive impact on both the environment and our clients. We are proud to deliver services in a profitable, economical and sustainable manner, doing our part to create a greener tomorrow and a sustainable future.

Sources:

EcoLabel Index, “Carbon Footprint of Products.”

Publicly Available Specification 2050, “Specification for the assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services.”

RREUSE, “Investigation into the repairability of Domestic Washing Machines, Dishwashers and Fridges.”

Wally Wilson, Life Cycle Engineering, “What’s the real cost of spare parts inventory?”