Who should 3D print Spare Parts: End Users or Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)?

Point of View | 18 February 2019

Having said that “The future of spare parts is 3D Printing” in PwC’s report, the question now arises who should be the one printing and how should the supply chain look like!

Should the final consumers 3D print themselves? Should the OEMs who own the designs produce with 3D Printing in-house? Or should there be a third-party involvement?

Let us try to understand the different scenarios.

1. If the end-users, i.e., the Industrial Machine Companies print the spare parts

End-users are the ones experiencing the pain of the missing parts. The fastest solution for them would be to print it. They can print either at home or at the nearest available 3D printer. But… then the problems start!
3D Printers are still not so affordable even for industrial companies. The training, maintenance and operating cost are high. And there is not just one technology, but a wide range to choose. So no individual can own the means to produce all possible spare parts.
End-users do not have access to the CAD models and design of parts. They aren’t aware of the exact technical specifications such as the required temperature resistance, malleability, etc.
These designs need to be worked upon on technical software such as Solidworks. Even for the smallest part, it needs a lot of work. And this is something not done in general by the masses. 

Also, the various technologies available for 3D printing makes it very difficult to decide how to print. Which kind of printer to use for best results? What are the advantages of each?
Acquiring knowledge of designing and 3D printing technologies in order to print a single spare part, would be highly costly for the end-user.
Ensuring robustness of production especially with regards to reproducibility and repeatability becomes difficult. Because of the lack of design and specifications, it means the target objectives are blurry. All this combined increases the chance of producing faulty parts. If used, there is a high safety risk!
OEMs cannot assume the responsibility on such parts and thus breaks the OEM warranty on the entire equipment. Often the equipment is very expensive and users would not want to take such a risk to themselves undertaking spare part production. And the risk of voiding the manufacturer warranty on their expensive appliance.

2. If the OEMs 3D print the spare parts in-house

It makes most sense for the OEMs to print the spare parts themselves. Because OEMs are the owners of the design of the actual parts and have complete technical specifications for it. They know exactly from a technical standpoint what can be or can’t be done and can qualify the parts as OEM.

OEMs also have the resources (human and capital) to be able to do it. They are also the unique point of convergence for the parts demand and therefore they consolidate volumes and can better invest in the conversion of parts to additive. For that reason, they can select the right part for 3D printing from a business standpoint and build-up easily viable business cases to apply the technology.

But… then the problems start!

For example in the Home Appliance sector, the core business of OEMs is the production of appliances and equipment, selling them, and provide aftersales service. Their major focus is on technological R&D and supplying work packages. Spare parts are a very small portion of their business which doesn’t even generate any revenue to them. It is a pure cost centre!

And for all sectors, most often the consumers are spread worldwide and hence spare parts demand as well. Central production may not help the OEMs and the supply chain throughout the world would be another big hurdle. They need to have local production globally.

Owning a 3D printer globally is highly capital intensive with fewer returns. This is financially not viable because of high set-up cost and high maintenance cost.

The best situation would be using independent 3D printers worldwide. However, in this case, the OEMs need to manage hundreds of them while ensuring stringent materials, methods, processes, and quality. They need quality control for all independent providers across continents and cultures. There is even the risk of some of these 3D printing service providers undercutting the OEM and using the designs and metadata provided by them to sell directly to the end users.

So what is the Final Solution?

It is not difficult to say that a globally distributed network of 3D printers managed by the OEMs directly would be an ideal solution, except for the problem of handling all the individual 3D printers.

What if the OEM has to only deal with a one-third party which in turn manages the worldwide 3D printer network. OEM just needs to provide designs and specifications to this third party and qualify their parts. It is the responsibility to this third party to ensure quality, property rights and consistency over time and location.

Isn’t this exactly what Spare Parts 3D does?

You can read how we ensure quality in our distributed production here!

Also, read about our global network!

Confused about the technologies most suitable to transfer technology from conventional to 3D printing. Read here.