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Blog post published Mar 2, 2016 Blog: Go with the flow

3D printing: The ultimate supply chain

A convergence of technical and social advances is bringing 3D printing to mainstream large-scale manufacturing. Not only has the technology revolutionized manufacturing, its effects are being felt throughout the supply chain.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of making a physical object layer-by-layer based on digital instructions. Although the principles of 3D printing were invented in 1984, the use of the technology is increasing annually. 3D-printed products come in all sizes and materials: pills, F1 race car components and gas turbine blades. In China, a five-storey building was assembled from 3D-printed modules, whereas the smallest 3D-printed object is the size of an ant’s forehead.

Faster and more efficient processes

For industrial companies, 3D printing enables efficient maintenance operations, since spare parts and tools can be 3D printed – on demand and on site. This speeds up repairs and is especially beneficial for sites that are remote or difficult to access.

3D printers help companies reduce the time and cost associated with prototyping parts and refining their designs. General Electric’s Oil division, for instance, shortened its development time from prototype to products from 12 months to 12 weeks thanks to the technology.

Furthermore, 3D printing enables rapid manufacturing whereby companies can offer short-run custom manufacturing, and the printed objects are the actual end-user products, such as faucets and eyewear frames. 

Unlocking the full potential of industrial companies

Over the next decade, 3D printing is predicted to become a mainstream digital capability for many industrial companies. Those that are a first mover in this field will have a big head start. By taking steps now to understand how to leverage this technology, these companies will be better positioned to implement an end-to-end supply chain, from prototyping to manufacturing to maintenance, without the need for warehousing. This will enable them to transform the efficiency of their upstream supply chains and introduce new markets and sources of revenue to their downstream businesses.  

Full article written by Juha Turunen was previously published in Results Flow Control magazine (pages 9-11), December 2015, as “3D printing, additive manufacturing.”

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Jukka Borgman: 3D printing widely used at Metso Flow Control

At Metso Flow Control, we see 3D printing as a viable emerging technology. We are actively exploring the possibilities of utilizing it in our production. For example, 3D printing helps us quickly supply rarely used spare parts to our customers, wherever they are.

This technology has already proved itself to be valuable for our design and testing processes. Studying the mechanisms of new solutions with 3D CAD software is a must, but it doesn’t give a realistic feel of the forces to open and shut a valve. So we regularly use a 3D printer to develop valves and actuators and verify the different designs. 

And when designing new positioners or limit switches, we use 3D prototypes to visualize the product and collect early feedback from customers. Additionally, 3D prints are often used for demos or training tools. Even complete printed pump models have been sent out to serve as show-stopping giveaways.

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