November 16, 2017

Finnish research finds future in digital spare parts

3D-printed hotplate parts.
3D-printed hotplate parts.

A two-year project led by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University investigated how digital spare parts can boost industry.

The research found that five per cent of spare parts could currently be digitalised, meaning information related to a specific spare part could be stored and the part itself 3D-printed when needed and close to the end user.

At the moment production plants maintain large warehouses stocked with rarely used spare parts.

“Capital is released for more productive use when stock decreases,” says Mika Salmi, project manager of the project at Aalto University. “Demand-based manufacturing also reduces the environmental burden, because spare parts are not left unused. Another major opportunity lies in reducing downtimes through faster spare-part manufacture.”

The project also found digitalisation to enable customisation of individual parts, making countless product versions or upgrades possible. Also, by adding a wear sensor to a spare part, it could recognise when the part needs changing and even initiate the replacement process itself.

However, challenges remain. Most spare parts are designed for manufacture using traditional methods, so information that would enable them to be 3D-printed is unavailable.

The project was launched  last year and is valued at around 1.4 million euros. It is funded by Tekes and a number of participating research organisations and companies.