3D printing has opened wonderful opportunities for collaboration between customer and the company. This dialogue is useful and creates value for all. It is no wonder that companies like Local Motors, Volkswagen and Shapeways take community management and co-development with 3D printing seriously.
Car industry has found maybe the largest number of 3D printing applications. It has also managed to connect users, engineers and the industry in innovative ways. However, there are still untapped possibilities. I will discuss some examples of the new value generation and open horizons for industrial collaboration for better customer engagement.
1. Connect company with user insights
3D printing aggregators, such as Thingiverse, provide rich world for exploring do-it-yourself 3D-printables. People are solving their concrete needs with all kinds of tools and parts, such as GoPro camera holders, and sharing the results for others to use. Often the DIY part has features that are far better than the original from the manufacturer.
Manufacturing companies are following these online forums in order to get insights on the next products, understand needs that are related to the uses of their products, and also to identify talented designers and innovators.
Some companies are even smarter. They actively engage and invite online talents to join their development projects and design challenges, offering soft rewards like great community of co-developers, learning journeys and recognition, or tangible rewards. For example Local Motors has used online community for the development of the 3D printed cars.
2. Use community to develop better parts
Spare parts is a promising 3D printing application for car industry. Mercedes Benz is starting the manufacturing of metal 3D printed on-demand spare parts for older trucks. The parts are manufactured from the digital models that either exist already or are reverse engineered from existing parts.
”Using additive manufacturing, the company was able to achieve parts with almost 100% density, greater purity than conventional die-cast aluminium parts, very high strength and thermal resistance – making the process particularly suitable for small batches of mechanically and thermally stressed components.” Source
Mercedes Benz 3D printed spare parts. Source.
Also Daimler is developing 3D printed spare parts manufacturing, especially for plastic parts using SLS technology. The current offering covers more than150 on-demand parts.
Beyond brand specific solutions there are also companies offering spare parts for any applications. For example, Spare Parts 3D from Singapore offers a general spare part service for all and everywhere, mainly printed with plastics. The company’s mission is to digitalize the stocks. Also this service is based on the digital community. 3D printing service offices anywhere can join and become local service providers in Spare Parts 3D network. Target delivery time for spare parts is 24 hours.
The promise and value is not only in the spare parts. Rapid manufacturing of car spare parts enables fast response to developing user needs and emerging product problems. For example, when the original spare part lacks a feature or tends to break in certain way, it can be re-designed and then printed without delays. The concept of better parts emerges. The customer gets better solution (maybe not CE approved, though) and the original manufacturer gets concrete proposals for improving the products. Of course, only if the manufacturer has a method for discussing and collaborating with the customers.
Case: Avant hydraulic block
Avant loaders are high quality machines for many kinds of jobs that require horsepower in compact and ergonomic form. The engine has hydraulic block of 2.9 kilograms with over 30 different parts. Finnish 3D printing company 3DStep re-designed the block for 3D printing, together with engineering company Enmac. Special attention was paid on the improved functionality and faster installation. The resulting part weights less than 400g:s and is made from one component. This part is a typical example of 3D printed better part. It is lighter, integrated and provides better functionality than the original.
3. Empower the engineers with 3D printing
Volkswagen has demonstrated that 3D printing can have crucial role in optimizing car design, manufacturing and maintenance. VW factory in Portugal makes over 100 000 cars every year. This factory is specialized in the manufacturing innovations related to new models.
The poka-yoke makes it possible to position and assemble screws without damaging the wheels. Source.
Desktop 3D printers were brought to help the design and manufacturing of new cars. During 2016 more than 1000 tools were 3D printed on-demand. Volkwagen reports major savings in making new tools (95%) and radically decreased manufacturing costs. The biggest shift was mental: taking the step from closed R&D environment to the use of open innovation culture.
4. Think about your 3D printing strategy
The global ecosystem of spare part catalogues, service providers and crowdsourced designers is forming right now. The open ecosystem will straightforwardly serve the customer and engineer needs rather than the company business strategy. From the company perspective, the business is shifting from dealing parts and logistics to dealing with copyrights and mastering the creative developer community.
3D printing is an opportunity to renew the company business, digitalize services and build cost-efficient solutions for logistics, maintenance and production. Any company working with cars, loaders, trucks and other vehicles needs to study the business opportunities and new avenues of competition for the next 1-3 years. 3D printing will change the car industry from village garages to manufacturing plants.
Take coffee and think:
- How your business could be improved with 3D printed parts and tools?
- How your customers could be co-developers?
- How you can try out 3D printing in your business?
Views on spare parts business. Source: Strategy&
– Pekka Ketola, CEO 3DStep –
3DStep is the scandinavian forerunner in 3D printing business. Our mission is to make 3D printing business as usual. 3DStep factory and innovation centre locate in Ylöjärvi, Finland.
3DStep provides all you need from idea generation to design, optimisation, prototypes, serial additive manufacturing (metals, plastics), training and strategy development. 3DStep is your trusted partner for spare parts and better parts.