3D printers can revolutionise the maintenance industry
They don’t look all that amazing. Small, white plastic boxes with a rotating object in the middle. But they are creating a revolution in maintenance. Smart maintenance is being developed on all fronts at Volvo Cars. An important part of this is 3D printers.
Mohamad Abosh is responsible for developing smart maintenance at Volvo Cars. About two years ago, he and a colleague started looking at the potential benefits for the company of working more smartly with maintenance.
- There are so many technical possibilities, such as the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, that it can be a bit overwhelming. You have to start in specific areas and learn during the journey, says Mohamad Abosh.
One of the focus areas he chose is additive manufacturing. The technology itself is not new to Volvo. It has been used for decades for design and product development. But would it work to print spare parts for the business?
The many benefits of additive manufacturing
Mohamad Abosh started by selecting three spare parts that are both expensive and have long delivery times. With the help of the research department, they were printed and tested for function and durability. They worked fine.
It turned out that there were many benefits. A tool that costs, for example, SEK 10,000 to buy from a supplier can cost a few hundred dollars to 3D-print. And several weeks of delivery lead-time become a couple of hours with the printer. There is no waste because you use exactly as much material as you need. Inventory and transport are completely eliminated. You can also reduce the weight of the spare parts by making them hollow.
- Then we bought two professional desktop 3D printers and started printing more and more parts to learn how to best use them. Since there are no major costs involved in printing, you can experiment, he says.
Legal rights are an important issue
After only six months, there are now 117 spare parts that are 3D-printed and Mohamad Abosh estimates that there are at least 300 more that are printable. In addition, production staff have heard of ideas about articles, such as tools and ergonomic instruments, that are now 3D-printed.
One important issue to solve is legal rights. Volvo Cars’ maintenance department has many suppliers and thousands of components. Knowing which of these are protected by patents and copyright turned out to be a gigantic job.
- We had lots of help from our legal department on this. If there is the slightest doubt, we do not print, explains Mohamad Abosh. Nevertheless, he believes that the possibility of 3D printing will force spare parts suppliers to adopt new business models.
Mohamad Abosh is also responsible for coordinating smart maintenance in all Volvo Cars factories. Here he sees fantastic opportunities for both savings and reducing lead times. Instead of sending spare parts, you can send drawings and then print in 3D. By sharing ideas and experiences, you can simplify and streamline further.
Smart maintenance makes the industry attractive
The way the maintenance organisation works is also evolving in parallel with the development of smart maintenance. Many new positions, requiring new skills, will be added while some of the more monotonous work will disappear. In other words, there will continue to be high demands for recruitment.
Mohamad Abosh hopes that smart maintenance will make the industry more attractive, not least for younger generations, who are already familiar with AR, VR and other modern technologies and are used to managing most things on their mobile device.
- We have something of a Silicon Valley feel here – bubbling with creativity, everything is possible, and we get every encouragement from management to test our ideas. It’s great fun working here.
Additive manufacturing is one of the focus areas of Underhåll, the Swedish Maintenance Fair, which takes place on 10-13 March 2020 at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre, Gothenburg. Mohamad Abosh will participate as one of the speakers on Wednesday, 11 March. He will then tell more about how Volvo Cars is working on 3D printing of spare parts and how the company has succeeded in globalising production in a short time. You can find more information about Underhåll, the Swedish Maintenance Fair and its programme here .
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