Natural disasters: How 3D printing strengthens the manufacturing operations

Technical Focus | 9 July 2018

The ability to produce a large range of items with a single machine, and particularly spare parts, gives a great potential to additive manufacturing to ensure manufacturing operations. In this mindset, we explained in a former article on how 3D printing is decreasing the supply chain risk to zero.

Let’s explain now why this supply risk zero argument takes all its sense when it comes to facing natural disasters.

3D printing fits naturally the usual business contingency plan used in manufacturing. So far, when the organization’s manufacturing operations are facing the elements, the society largely and rightly prefers concentrates its aids to human rather than production companies. Therefore, a little is done to replace the damaged parts and recover the supply chain when factories and machinery are destroyed. Manufacturing spare parts are hard to get, to custom if needed, and to implement. That is how shutdown appears caused by operational issues when economical activities could push forward the region recovery.

Let’s take the example of Hurrican Harvey to illustrate our point.

In 2017, the category 4 hurricane damaged the US mainland and especially Texas, for an estimated amount of $125 billion, meaning the second most costly hurricane to hit the US since 1900. And behind those figures, it is about people, but it is also about companies.

On this kind of land, industrial companies like ExxonMobil are very impacted by natural disaster as their machinery are directly exposed and can create some extra-damages (gas release, explosion, pollutants material…). ExxonMobil has been damaged for around $160 million but is not helped by any social aid afterwards. Even more, the company is likely to be sued because of the extra damaged it could cause. Therefore, the company may prevent itself against all kind of trouble and create a reliable contingency plan to stay safe when facing natural disasters.

That’s how 3D printing take its steps into the business of industrial companies.

Additive Manufacturing is the solution to produce quickly and efficiently manufacturing equipment in case of unexpected operational disruption caused by natural disasters. By creating a digital counterpart of the specific physical part in prevention, the digital twinning, the supply chain management gets ready for any unforeseen event. Manufacturers are progressively integrating their suppliers and customers into a demand-driven supply chain through digital twin concepts. That trend leads to a decrease of inventories, while data are physically stocked forever and out of reach from natural disasters.

The 3D printing ability to replace parts offers a strong bridging solution when equipment or components irreparability due to hazards (seawater, fire, or other physical damage) creates a production gap. The technology ensures the reliability of the contingency plan and the continuity of the production.

For more information aboutDigital twin and 3D printing contingency plans, please read the full  article from 3D printing industry here.