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, like industrial machine companies, print the spare parts

End-users are the ones experiencing the pain of missing parts. The fastest solution for them would be to print it. They can print either at home or at the nearest available 3D printing facility. However, the problem starts right there.

3D Printers are still not so affordable even for industrial companies. The training, maintenance, and operating costs are high. In addition, there is a variety of 3D printing technologies to choose. It is therefore very difficult to know all the industrial know-how to produce all possible spare parts.
End-users do not have access to the CAD models and design of parts. They aren’t familiar with 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 by the masses. 

Aside from that, the various technologies available for 3D printing make it very difficult for end-users to decide how to print their parts. Which kind of printer to use to come up with the best results? What are the advantages of each printer?
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 quite difficult. Due to lack of design and specifications, the target objectives are blurry. All this factors increase the chances of producing faulty parts. If these faulty parts are used, there will be 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 for them to produce spare parts 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 the 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 of the parts. They know exactly, from a technical standpoint, what can be or can’t be done and can qualify the parts as OEMs.

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 shift from traditional to additive manufacturing. For that reason, they can select the right part for 3D printing from a business standpoint and build-up viable business cases to apply the technology.

However, the problems starts here!

For example, in the Home Appliance sector, the core business of OEMs is to produce appliances and equipment, sell them, and provide after-sales 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 for them. It is a pure cost center!

For all sectors, most often the consumers, along with their spare parts demand, are spread worldwide. Central production may not help the OEMs and having a global supply chain would be another challenge. Adopting local production, meaning producing spare parts in their customers’ countries, would certainly help them solve the issue.

However, establishing a global 3D-printing network is highly capital intensive with minimal returns. This is financially not viable because of its high set-up cost and high maintenance cost.

The best solution would be using independent 3D printers worldwide. However, in this case, the OEMs need to manage hundreds of 3D printing partners while ensuring stringent materials, methods, processes, and quality. They need quality control for all independent providers across continents and cultures. There solution comes with certain risks. The providers might use the design and metadata provided by the OEMs, produce spare parts themselves, and sell them to the end-users without involving the OEMs.

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.