By using 3D printing to produce components and spare parts, manufacturers can reduce costs, resource use and embedded carbon, while also simplifying supply chains, according to Replique, a German startup specializing in additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.
“All industries – including HVAC&R – are facing global challenges, from the pandemic and geopolitical issues, to sustainability demands and disrupted supply chains, and these challenges result in higher costs, increased risk and slower delivery time” said Mark Winker, Replique’s Technical Sales Expert. “3D printing can offer the solution.”
Winker delivered these remarks during his keynote presentation at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) Europe Summit on natural refrigerants. The conference took place November 15–16 in Brussels and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of R744.com.
As detailed during Winker’s presentation, Replique will only work with HVAC&R manufacturers that use natural refrigerants.
“All industries – including HVAC&R – are facing global challenges… 3D printing can offer the solution.”Mark Winker, Replique
According to Winker, current production methods have “significant limitations” and create challenges around inventory management and logistics.
Formative manufacturing – i.e., using molds to cast parts or products – is generally only cost-competitive in large quantities, which leads to high upfront costs for OEMs and long-term storage requirements to manage the inventory, he said.
Subtractive manufacturing – i.e., taking a block of material and carving it to produce a part or product – limits design complexity and wastes a lot of material, he added.
“3D printing is different,” explained Winker. “It doesn’t need any additional tools; it just needs the [printing] machine and the raw material, which is only used where it is needed. It’s much more efficient in resource consumption than conventional productions methods.”
By removing limitations around traditional production technologies, additive manufacturing enables new ways of thinking in terms of product design and can meet the growing demand for product customization. It is also compatible with a wide range of materials, including stainless steel, aluminum, copper, plastics, resin, titanium and polymers.
“All the materials you [use] in your products can be printed today on an industrial scale and to the expected quality,” he added.
Quality of the printed product is assured based on a manufacturer’s specifications and printing partners’ following the required safety procedures, said Winker.
According to Winker, 80% of a manufacturer’s sales come from just 20% of its inventory, with the remaining 80% of its inventory rarely needed.
With 3D printing, manufacturers are able to better manage their inventory of components and reduce warehousing, he said.
Rather than producing parts in large volumes – to reduce per-unit costs – and storing them all until they’re needed, manufacturers can store designs digitally and print parts when requested by customers. This is particularly relevant to spare parts, which are becoming more important as manufacturers are required to make products repairable, he added.
“OEMs struggle to provide spare parts while keeping overhead costs low,” he explained. But with 3D printing, “manufacturers can simply store parts digitally, print them when needed and get them sent directly to the end user.”
At the moment, 3D printing is an efficient and cost-competitive means of production for small and medium volumes – around 1,500–5,000 pieces. Over the next five years or so, 3D printing will become more widely used for high-volume production as well, he added.
In addition to reducing waste from surplus parts going unused through on-demand production, 3D printing can also boost resource efficiency by using only the necessary amount of raw material to print a product.
“The additive process means that almost only the material that is part of the final product is used,” explained Winker.
Not only does this cut waste and improve the sustainability of production, but it also reduces costs.
Simplified supply chain
“By utilizing industrial 3D printing, we’re creating a more resilient and sustainable supply chain,” said Winker during his presentation.
This is due to a more simplified value chain of fewer links, with Replique offering an “end-to-end solution,” according to Winker.
“By utilizing industrial 3D printing, we’re creating a more resilient and sustainable supply chain.”Mark Winker, Replique
He explained that when a part is needed, the raw material and product design is sent to whichever certified 3D printer is closest to the product’s destination. This approach significantly reduces delivery time and costs, as well as the embedded carbon footprint of a product.
“Sending a digital file to 3D printer closer to an end user can save time, money and CO2 emissions from transport,” he explained. “You can do overseas business overnight.”
According to Winker, 3D printing can “boost sustainability in each stage of product life cycle, from product design to disposal and recycling.”