additive manufacturing

Q1 2022, Additive Manufacturing Review: Spare parts

Additive manufacturing, an ever changing and advancing manufacturing family of technologies, is filled with developments that take place on a regular basis. Whether you follow them from a close-up, or not, the flood of information available online is extremely high. Through this quarterly review of additive manufacturing news, and with the support of our innovation team, we want to bring the most important happenings in the field to light. It can be anything from AM trends, technical breakthroughs, or simply an AM highlight worth mentioning. In Q1 2022, we want to highlight the growing trend of spare parts in AM, hope you will enjoy it! 

Spare parts in Additive Manufacturing  

Do you remember the Ever Given ship blocking Suez canal in 2021 during 6 days, leading to a backlog of 400 ships (and costs around 400 millions USD) ? And the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on supply chains  – still visible 2 years after beginning of the crisis, as in Shanghai harbour ? As confirmed in the latest IPCC report, climate change is having, and will keep on having, tremendous impacts on the supply chains in the future – forcing us to rethink them, on how can they be simplified and become more resilient.

Picture from Reuters. Factbox: The Ever Given’s stranding in the Suez Canal

All these elements have already amplified the trend of using additive manufacturing to mitigate risks in supply chains. As always, there are numerous ways to use this family of technologies, and we already saw multiple great examples in 2022!

Keeping the same design

Thanks to its high flexibility and short time-to-print – no tooling needed being one of the obvious advantage – AM is more and more often selected as a double source to mitigate the risks in conventional production (e.g., to de-risk casting supply chain with Laser Powder Bed Fusion technology). This usually requires keeping the exact [1] same design, which is feasible when the properties of conventional materials can be either met or even exceeded with the AM material selected. This impossibility to change part’s design leads to numerous challenges [2] but, if overcome, it can bring valuable opportunities as described by Schneider this year. On-demand and de-centralized production lead to major impacts, especially to reduce product development duration, but also manufacture as close as components’ location of use.

A well-known AM sweet spot: prototyping and tooling

Numerous companies from diverse markets are now including prototyping with AM as a standard step in their product development process, as well as locally manufacturing their tooling assemblies. To get the most of this lead time reduction, they are investing in AM cells – as Bentley did with a 3 million £ investment this February. A classic combination of FFF [3] and SLS – or MJF – technologies can be used to produce in a time frame of 24h, components as close as possible to their use : enabling high savings in a short amount of time, as shown by Volskwagen and Ultimaker already 5 years ago. Worth mentioning, other materials such as Ceramics have also reached a high maturity age, and can also be used for spare parts production – as Zetamix announced it this year.

Picture from 3dprintingmedia.network; Bentley invests £3 million to expand AM capacity at Crewe factory

Spares of end-use parts

To increase these lead times and cost reductions even more, companies are now creating printing hubs to manufacture end-use components on-demand wherever needed in the world. A good example is, for instance, the collaboration this year between wind energy company Vestas and Markforged, which implemented an internal network of Composite printers. Focusing on mobility and location, companies such as Mobile Factory and Daimler have developed mobile facility-in-a-container concepts. We can also mention companies such as ExOne, Spee3D, Intamsys and Prodways that are also working on this field for the Defense industries (respectively USA, Australia, Netherlands, and France). Due to the recent geopolitical developments, we can expect this trend to highly increase – and AM cells becoming a standard tool for the defense sector.  

Reducing downtimes through AM has been identified as a game changer in the energy sector, as again confirmed by ABB Turbocharging this year. It is also true for the railway industry: companies such as Renfe, DB, and Alstom with SNCF are using AM for spare parts to gain flexibility. Sometimes forgotten, the marine industry is a clear leader (also for metal parts, with DED or LPBF [4]), with for instance Thyssenkrupp estabilishing with Wilhelmsen an AM spare parts hub in Singapore in 2020. And as we saw at the beginning of the covid-19 crisis, the shortage of medical equipment accelerated the integration of AM printers in Hospitals. For instance, after working with AP-HP hospitals in Paris in 2020, Bone 3D is now creating a network in multiple medical centres in Europe. All these AM initiatives are expected to grow in scale and numbers in the coming months and years.

Thyssenkrupp’s MoU with the Singapore DSTA sees it 3D printing spare parts for watercrafts like the Class 218SG submarine Invincible. Photo via thyssenkrupp. – Picture and caption from 3dprintingindustry.com

Through new design possibilities

Merging components

The best AM cases are often linked to assemblies merging: by starting with an initial assembly requiring dozens of components and ending with a single AM part, this leads to numerous advantages. The main focus is often to improve the component itself – making it lighter for instance – and it can also lead to better quality (e.g., less leaks in systems with complex pipes, or less waves dissipation in antennas because less interfaces are required) but it especially has a strong impact on the supply chain. Reducing the number of items in your inventory and the number of suppliers simplifies the industrialisation process and has a positive effect on your legacy parts management, as detailed for instance in this case from EOS and KunhStoff and by SNCF and the Additive4Rail initiative announced this year.

Customisation and unique cases, such as repair

Another added value of AM is customisation at a low cost: one of the reasons why so many medical implants are tailored to each patient and later produced in additive manufacturing. We also see this trend being confirmed in the automotive segment with Ford sharing this year CAD files in open source for anybody to print parts – with or without customisation – for their Maverick pick-up. Using AM to repair applications is another promising area, where we can expect more customised repair solutions in the future – which will also be interesting for future sustainability strategies.

Ford is encouraging customers to 3D print their own FITS-compatible accessories. Image via Ford. – Picture and caption from 3dprintingindustry.com

A green impact in the supply chain?

Additive Manufacturing has in many cases [5] the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of components during their production, as we confirmed in this project with Danish AM Hub (please see our annual report for more details).

But using AM could also positively change our shipping systems in multiple ways, let’s mention two:

  • For the same number of parts, a trend towards lighter components will requires less powerful systems to handle the parcels, using less energy to move from point A to B.
  • Through assembly merging possibilities it will also highly likely reduce the total number of kilometers travelled by each item assembled to create your final product, before reaching its place of use – saving again costs and reducing the pollution generated.

These two elements have a snowballing impact if the AM component considered is involved in the early phase of a product creation: a lighter component made by an AM supplier (e.g., brackets) will also positively impact the sub-assembly made by its customer (a complete sensor sub-system) at each step before it reached the end-user (a large autonomous vehicle).

Manufacturing spare parts in additive manufacturing is slowly becoming the new norm for several industries, and the first quarter of this year has already confirmed this trend – let’s see what other breakthroughs will be announced in the coming months!

The AMEXCI Innovation team has been involved along the years in various projects related to AM opportunities for Spare parts: please do not hesitate to contact them for any enquiry or question!


[1] Or similar enough to be acceptable without starting a qualification and/or re-certification program.

[2] The “initial” design was created to take advantages and consider the limitations of a specific material and process combination in mind. Changing the manufacturing process (to AM or any other) means adapting to the new manufacturing process limitations while ensuring compliance with the initial design requirements – sometimes quite challenging!

[3] Fused Filament Forming, Selective Laser Sintering and Multi Jet Fusion.

[4] Direct Energy Deposition, Laser Powder Bed Fusion

[5] But it is not automatically more sustainable, a detailed case analysis is always required.


About Benjamin Delignon


Benjamin Delignon
 works as Head of Innovation at AMEXCI, and has built 7 years of experience of Additive Manufacturing using various materials and technologies for multiple industries. He focuses on knowledge transfer with trainings and workshops, and support customers during the initial phase of their AM journey through cases analyses and development projects.

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