- The use of 3D printing for maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) will double "in the coming years," according to a survey of 114 respondents, conducted by Dimensional Research and Essentium, a 3D printing platform. The survey did not specify a time frame for "in the coming years."
- The respondents see use cases for 3D printing in various types of prototyping and parts production. Benefits of the technology include reduced lead times, cost reduction, the ability for mass customization and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
- Despite respondents naming cost reduction as a benefit, the plurality reported cost as the biggest obstacle to adopting 3D printing at scale. 3D printing technology and materials are too expensive, according to more than one-third of respondents.
Only one in five respondents in Essentium's survey said their companies currently use 3D printing for MRO. Yet professionals clearly see the potential for the technology to unlock value, given their expectation that nearly half of businesses will use it for MRO in the future.
Infosys described 3D printing as "a viable model for manufacturing low-volume customized parts, including [MRO] supplies."
The MRO supply chain comes with many challenges that 3D printing has the potential to solve.
The supply base for maintenance and repair materials is highly fragmented, due to the nature of specialized parts and numerous SKUs for varied equipment. Procuring such parts often comes with long lead times, a challenge for manufacturers that need access to spare parts immediately, as faster operations and supply chains demand as little downtime as possible.
A 3D printer provides the ability to print repair parts on demand and on site, reducing downtime as well as logistics costs. In the Essentium survey, 59% of respondents said reduced lead time was a potential benefit of 3D printing. In a survey by Sculpteo last year, 42% of 3D printing users named reduced lead times as a benefit.
Organizations can only realize the benefits of 3D printing if they're able to adopt the technology at scale. Among respondents, 83% said their largest production run using 3D printing produced hundreds of parts or fewer. About a third of the surveyed professionals said current 3D printing technology doesn't scale.
"Decision makers report strong motivations to find a way to scale quickly," the survey said, citing cost reductions as one of the benefits, once the cost of 3D printing technology and materials come down.