Will 3D Printing Replace the Warehouse?

Why This is Important:

Spare parts inventory can represent a significant portion of a company’s balance sheet.

Spare parts inventory can represent a significant portion of a company’s balance sheet but it’s something that nobody wants. Spare parts are held as insurance, whether that’s against downtime for components on your production line or to provide ongoing support to your customers. Managing this inventory is challenging, ensuring that you have just the right amount of stock available when you need it. 3D printing has long been hailed as the holy grail of spare parts management. The idea is that you no longer need to hold physical stock of your spare parts; instead, you store a digital file and when you have demand you simply print it – a true Just In Time manufacturing system.

Baden-Baden Benchmark and demo center
Figure 1: Baden-Baden Benchmark and demo center


Spare parts bin.

In our latest whitepaper, Will 3D printing eliminate the warehouse? we consider different scenarios for printing spare parts and look at how 3D Printing can be used to meet the spare parts needs of organisations, where the challenges are today and where businesses can seize short and long term opportunities.

There are already some interesting examples of where 3D printing is being used to support aftermarket products. Here’s a couple of our favourites:

Premium baby strollers

With a premium baby stroller costing in excess of $1,500, customers are understandably frustrated when spare parts are unavailable or disproportionately expensive. To serve this market, an entrepreneur has opened an online store selling spare parts for premium baby strollers through the online service bureau, Shapeways. The entrepreneur uses reverse-engineering to create digital files of stroller components that he believes are likely to fail. These designs are then uploaded to the Shapeways platform, through which customers are able to order components. The components are produced on demand by Shapeways using high-end 3d printers in either metal or plastic and then shipped directly to the customer – anywhere in the world – for a fraction of the cost of purchasing it from the original equipment manufacturer.

Flat-pack furniture

Beloved by college students and first-time home buyers, flat-pack furniture has gained a worldwide reputation for being low-cost and functional. However, if you are unfortunate enough to lose the small pieces that hold it together, the furniture is essentially useless. To solve this problem, an entire catalogue of printable components has developed on file sharing websites such as Thingiverse.com, where the file can be downloaded and printed at home for free using low-end 3D printers. These components are designed by hobbyists who use Creative Commons licencing to make the files freely available online.