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Digitizing Supply Chains with a 3D Printing Ecosystem

Image courtesy of Replique 3D printing Replique
Through 3D printing, equivalent or even improved parts can be created using less material, according to Replique.
Combining a digital inventory and a network of additive manufacturing professionals, Replique offers OEMs an end-to-end solution from qualification to production and shipment.

“Trusted parts for everyone, everywhere,” reads one of Replique’s web site taglines, and it sums up this BASF venture’s mission to provide on-demand decentralized production using additive manufacturing (AM). Design News recently spoke with Henrike Wonneberger, COO and cofounder of Replique, to discuss how the process works and how it can help companies with leveraging AM technologies to manage their supply chains.

Replique’s process encompasses designing parts for AM, qualification for the part, storing it in digital inventory, and then printing the part on demand via a global network of AM partners. If OEMs do not have a 3D model in place, experts from Replique can offer support by converting 2D drawings to 3D or they can even reverse-engineer products where there are no drawings.

The next, and very crucial, step is qualification, where part identification, materials selection, simulation, and even part design or modification take place. “For example, when we have casting, you have metal parts, very heavy, very solid parts. With AM, you could start making those structures hollow, and just have some support inside and you make the parts lighter,” Wonneberger said. “So, you also have a lot of chances, if you had to revise the part again, you might as well make a few improvements.”

The part is then stored digitally in inventory. “We have an encryption in place, the IP is secure, and also the quality,” Wonneberger said. That means that parts can only be printed in the amount requested and only using predefined production metrics, such as printing parameters and materials.

Wonneberger Quote .jpg

From there, the part can go into production with a global network of AM facilities. “The idea is that when the customer needs a part, it's ready to be printed on demand, which means this whole qualification of the part already takes place beforehand,” explained Wonneberger. “Some of our customers say it's like insurance. When you have it in our inventory, when you need it, you can get it right away and you can be sure that you can trust the quality.”

Wonneberger stressed that what makes Replique’s solution special is that it does not just substitute AM for another manufacturing technology, but that it also offers on-demand decentralized production, and by that, a whole new supply chain approach. “We have a network of print partners all over the world that can provide the parts,” she said. “So, you can leverage this digital technology that additive is, and you can go for the number that you need and where you need it.”

Besides the convenience of on-demand printing, Wonneberger said the total cost of ownership is an important concept that OEMs should consider. She said oftentimes a customer will wonder why AM might cost more than injection molding, for example. She countered this by suggesting that OEMs look toward to total cost of ownership.

Image courtesy of Replique3D printing Replique

Replique offers OEMs a secure and sustainable means of providing parts on demand, anywhere, anytime to customers, according to the company.

“Because, for example, if you don't need to warehouse parts anymore, you save a lot of cost,” she said. “If you don't need to throw lots of polymer parts away that you've produced in an injection molding mass production, but then after a few years, you haven't sold them, and they've gone brittle. From a sustainability aspect, that's not really great, but also from a cost perspective.”

Wonneberger concluded by saying, “We don't just exchange one manufacturing technology for another. This has great potential for the OEM, but also requires to be bold and take a bold step to also immerse in this idea of using a different concept than before.”

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