The transportation industry requires parts that withstand extreme speeds and heat, while still being lightweight enough to avoid preventable drag. The benefit of additive manufacturing’s ability to develop lightweight components has led to more efficient vehicles.
Many of the AM applications transforming the transportation industry include complex ductwork that is unable to be fabricated using conventional methods, resilient prototypes, custom interior features, grilles, and large panelling.
AM technology will continue to evolve product design and on-demand manufacturing. As design software becomes more integrated and easier to use, the benefits of additive manufacturing will grow to significantly influence an increasing number of industries.
Living in a material world
AM can reduce the impact of these trade issues through its ability to produce parts on demand and locally. In addition, complex geometries can be produced using the technology meaning that an assembly of several parts is produced at once. Producing an assembly all at once involves the procurement of a single raw material rather than procuring multiple parts and then assembling them. This is a natural ability of AM since it has virtually no geometric restrictions, unlike other manufacturing techniques. GE, for example, has used the technology in their newest TurboProp engine. In this engine they replaced over 850 metal parts with just 12 3D printed complex parts.
Clearly, any delay in receiving a part presents an immediate bottleneck around production of a product (or assembly) that includes this part impacting manufacturing and delivery schedules. Cutting down the number of needed suppliers reduces this risk and the procurement department is happy with that shorter list of suppliers. This is very clear when the parts are highly specialized (like in an engine) but also applies to simpler products.
From Virtual to Reality: 3D printed parts when and where required on demand
The assembly replacement ability of AM is just one of the technology’s many advantages these advantages enhance or compound each other. Probably the most important efficiency-enhancing AM capability within supply chains is its ability to enable virtual inventories and a digital (for the most part) rather than physical supply chain. This is quite literally the ability to access and pull parts from a digital (rather than physical) inventory and then quickly and effortlessly 3D print them anywhere at any time in the exact quantity desired. The digital inventory can be stored on a local disk, in a central disk, or even in the cloud.
This has several positive implications, the first of which is the huge cost saving that arises from eradicating the need for large physical inventories. Let’s face it, physical inventory is the weak spot in any supply chain; it has no benefits beyond the availability of parts and is a burden for companies that pay enormous amounts of money to maintain it. Similarly, from a logistics perspective using AM with virtual inventories cuts out the headache and costs of balancing excess and shortages in physical inventory at individual locations. Indeed, the logistical benefits are even greater as virtual inventories simplify and streamline the entire distribution network at the geographic level. Think about it there’s no longer any physical inventory, which means the traditional central-to-region-to-local distribution model is eradicated, as is the need to do projections, which, of course, have to be exact, lest the company suffers from more delays and more costs. In contrast, working digitally takes no time at all and is so much cheaper.
As this cost of physical inventory is eliminated, companies can always keep a low volume of parts in inventory, making missing parts a thing of the past. This also means that, should a problem with a part arise, supply chain managers can react quickly without having to dispose of older inferior parts (because they don’t exist in the first place).