3D printing – will it really make a difference in the service sector?
1st April 2019 - Utilising a sleek and efficient workforce can improve service response times while decreasing the significant operational costs associated with running a fleet of vehicles, back office coordination & technician/service time.
In order to keep your team operating on top of their game, service technicians must have access to all the parts needed to resolve the problem at hand without the need for repeat visits and additional contractor related delays, known in the industry as the first-time fix rate.
How do you balance the need to have business-critical parts on hand, whilst avoiding having cash tied up in inventory?
The ability to minimise excess inventory while still proving service technicians all the critical tools to do their jobs and maintain a high first-time fix rate could be game-changing.
What is the potential relationship between 3D printing and improved first-time fix rate and customer satisfaction?
3D printers could offer a unique opportunity to remove inventory from the factors impacting first-time fix rate. By providing the possibility to print a broad range of specialised parts at the click of a button, contractors can prevent needless overstock of rarely used parts without risking the ire of disappointed customers.
DELOITTE Global predicts that “sales related to 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) by large public companies—including enterprise 3D printers, materials, and services—will surpass US$2.7 billion in 2019 and top US$3 billion in 2020. (For context, the global manufacturing sector’s revenue as a whole totals roughly US$12 trillion annually.1) This part of the 3D printing industry will grow at about 12.5 percent in each of those years, more than double its growth rate just a few years ago.”
As a direct result of this massive expansion, In some sectors, 3D printers are already beginning to make a serious impact on how business is done.
What are 3D printers typically used for and who uses them?
“About 66 percent of industrial manufacturers are already using 3D printing, according to a 2014 PwC survey. Most commonly used to quickly create prototypes, this technology also enables maintenance professionals to significantly reduce inventory costs and extend the life spans of outdated assets.”
Removing the lag time between idea and physical prototype, 3D printing is already helping engineers and industrial manufacturers better turn concepts into reality.
In construction, 3D printing engineers are developing methods to form wall sections and plumbing and electrical hubs; potentially decreasing the future cost of home construction in orders of magnitude.
“Novel types of printers are becoming available—those that exploit robotics more ingeniously, for instance, or are better adapted to compound materials—and are enabling new applications.”
In the medical sectors, 3D printing is being used to form new drug delivery systems to better distribute medicine to patients’ immune systems.
How can 3D printing impact the service sectors?
In the service sectors, 3D printing could bring tangible changes in maintenance management via; inventory costs (a reoccurring and relevant theme across many sectors), assembly costs, and the replacement of discontinued parts.
Maintaining an inventory of spare parts is expensive and not always viable depending on the size of your fleet and staff. Some parts are expensive and companies only need to keep a couple of spares on hand to avoid machine downtime. Through the implementation of 3D printing, businesses can send out technicians with common parts and the ability to print irregular parts on the spot if needed. This prevents overstock while ensuring it won’t negatively impact first-time fix rate.
Reduces Assembly Costs:
With a variance of methods to produce parts in real-time, e.g. CNC machining vs 3D printing, time and costs can make a major impact into which tool will be used to create specialised items.
“Generally, a complex, 3D printed part is cheaper to produce than one that is traditionally tooled out of a CNC machine. This is because some parts are cut from metal and assembled after, while you create a 3D printed part in one solid piece.”
Replacement of Discontinued Parts:
If maintained properly machinery can operate for many years without major issue. But inevitably, a machine will become outdated and spare parts may be difficult to find or too expensive to source. Older assets can be kept running longer by outsourcing the 3D printing of discontinued, high-value parts, allowing these assets to be maintained at lower cost and for a longer duration.
What are the current obstacles preventing the widespread use of 3D printing in the service sector and what factors could change this?
There are a number of factors currently contributing to 3D printers/ printing being the method of choice to quickly acquire or produce a specialised part. However, some of the major obstacles include;
- Cost of machinery (ranging for £4,500-£600,000)
- Cost of materials to be formed in the 3D printer
- Skill in operating the often complex software (see our recent blog on the impact of Millennials in the workforce to see how this is quickly becoming an issue of the past)
- Simple to understand and standardised regulations in 3D printer construction
- Patents and legal matters which are currently inflating the cost of producing high-quality 3D printers.
- Lmitations in the pliability of materials and the resulting cost of easily printable materials
- Timeline of total production on the 3D printer
How could a collaborative platform, such as JobWatch from BigChange help bring 3D printing into the toolbox of service contractors?
In some industries, 3-D printing has been considered or utilized for an extended period of time- on the scale of several decades. However, the use cases have been heavily dominated in the realms of prototyping and not to be effectively used for large scale manufacturing.
Industries that have gained a great deal of familiarity with 3D printing, primarily the aerospace and automotive industries, are beginning to unlock the capabilities so others can build working parts, elegantly designed fixtures, and models. Innovators and entrepreneurs are just beginning to scratch the surface of 3-D printing’s potential.
“To simplify tricky field logistics scenarios, field service professionals can set up on-demand printing stations in hard-to-reach or temporary field service job areas. The oil and gas, renewables, rail, and construction sectors all face the same challenge.
They must provide service in challenging locations and environments. Instead of delivering hundreds of parts on the back of a truck, why not deliver a handful of 3D printing machines that could custom print on-demand near the site? This could significantly reduce shipping costs and meet real-time parts replacement demands. And you’d only be manufacturing the parts you’ll use.”
And what better way to facilitate this collaboration than using the BigChange mobile workforce management Network? With the BigChange Collaboration Network, any active user can find and schedule subcontracting services with ease. As the field of 3D printing becomes more entrenched and mobile the BigChange team looks forward to welcoming relevant partners to join our network to best meet the needs of our dynamic customers and clients.
To read more on how the BigChange Collaboration Network can help your business better meet growing customer demands please see this link as well as this recent blog by Paul Skinner on the value of collaboration.