Supply Chain Challenges Accelerate 3-D Printing Use

Manufacturers have had to think creatively to sustain production during recent and persistent supply chain delays. Among the technologies that many more have turned to is 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing.

Roboze Inc., an Italian polymer printer, opened an office in Houston shortly before the pandemic hit. It has since doubled its staff to about 100 globally as it tries to keep pace with demand for 3-D products from oil-and-gas companies.

“Because of supply chain disruptions, we have significantly been growing in the order of a few folds,” said the company’s Arash Shadravan. He said Roboze, which co-chairs an American Petroleum Institute committee working to set industrywide 3-D printing standards, has worked with the world’s five largest oil and gas operators.

Issues including cost and print speeds have constrained the 3-D printing industry, but a rise in global shipping costs and new techniques are making the technology more attractive. Freight costs have leveled off from recent peaks but remain elevated amid port congestion and shipping shortages.

“Companies who may have tentatively taken their first steps last year are now starting to mature their interest,” said Matthew Waterhouse of 3D Metalforge Ltd.

Waterhouse said some customers also see 3-D printing as a way to eliminate large inventories of parts, which can be expensive to store and often become obsolete before they get used.

Companies such as 3D Metalforge analyze component inventories to identify parts suitable for printing, developing the designs and processes before helping with testing and certification.

“The increased flexibility and confidence on lead times may help drive efficiencies across warehousing, logistics and operations maintenance,” said Brett Woods, as his company, Santos Ltd., prepared for a stainless-steel printing trial.

In some cases, 3-D printing goes beyond parts. Japanese engineering group JGC plans to use its concrete construction 3-D printer to build structures around a biomass power plant.

Source: Wall Street Journal