Technological innovations such as the Internet, neural networking, resistive and capacitive touchscreens have disrupted the conventional technologies and processes. Similarly, 3D printing also known as additive manufacturing has been transforming the manufacturing industry for more than three decades now. Additive manufacturing has a plethora of applications ranging from miniature enameled pottery items to building 3D printed houses. Early application of additive manufacturing was limited to rapid prototyping and medical applications such as manufacturing of 3D printed prosthetic limbs and kidney. Evolution of 3D printing technologies in terms of processes such as fused deposition modeling (FDM), poly jet/inkjet printing, direct metal laser sintering, selective laser melting, and electron beam melting (EBM) is revolutionizing the application of 3D printing across various end-user industries. Similarly, usage of several raw materials such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyvinyl alcohol plastic (PVA), polycarbonate (PC), nylon, resins, stainless steel, titanium and other metals is assisting 3D printing technology to foray into various end users industries. Improvement in the process and raw material has been aiding in the adoption of 3D printing technology. However, the rudimentary working principle of 3D printing technology itself provides the manufacturer with great advantages over the conventional manufacturing process. Following are such key advantages of 3D printing technology.
Ability to Manufacture Complex Parts: 3D printing enables to manufacture parts, products with complex design. Ability to add layers of raw material in intricate geometries provides countless benefit compared to the machining process. In addition, the capability to integrate computer-aided design (CAD) drawings with 3D printer empowers the manufacture in adding layers of material in required complex geometries.
Reduced Time to Market: Elimination of conventional manufacturing such as milling, turning, drilling along with advanced machined technologies such as computer numerical (CNC) machining, laser cutting and electrochemical erosion among others, has resulted in reduced time to market. Substantial reduction of set up time and changeover time by 3D printing technology has been aiding manufacturer to produce parts and products sooner to the market. Production of parts and products in the assembly line which consumes around weeks of operation time has been reduced to days by 3D printing technology. 3D printing technology reduces mold manufacturing time by 30-50% as compared to conventional manufacturing.
Reduced Cost of Manufacturing: 3D printing removes different cost components of conventional manufacturing, thereby substantially reducing the cost of 3D printing a product or part. Tooling cost, setup cost, labor cost, and scrap or raw material wastage cost are completely eliminated by 3D printing. Ability to use minimal raw material and reduce overhead cost make 3D printing technology competitive. However, for high volume products, conventional manufacturing is still cheaper due to economy of scale.
Customization and Risk Mitigation: 3D printing gives the control to create a new design for the products and helps to personalize the design as required by the manufacturer. In addition, failure of the 3D printed product inexpensively greatly mitigates the risk of expensive rapid prototyping failures for manufacturers.
3D printing with its ensuing advantages was used by manufacturers from various end-user industries with varying degree of adoption rate. Healthcare industry limited 3D printing technology for producing prosthetic limbs and organs. Industries such as automotive, aerospace, and architect are shifting usage of 3D printing technology from rapid prototyping to production of end-user products. However, mature industries such as pump and valve industry has been unhurried in the adoption of 3D printing technology and are starting to investigate the usage of 3D printing technology lately.
Deferral in Adoption of 3D Printing Technology by the Pump and Valve Industry:
3D printing technology has its own barriers for complete adoption by the pump and valve industry, subsequently deferring its employment. Besides limitation of 3D printing technology to rapid prototyping, following are the factors which restrained application of 3D printing technology by pump and valve Industry.
- Range of Raw Material: Initial implementation of 3D printing involved raw materials confined to Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic (PVA), Polycarbonate (PC), and other types of plastics along with Resins. Lack of mechanical properties by the initially available raw material to withstand operating conditions of Pump and Valve such as fluid alkalinity, vapor pressure, operating temperature and others, hindered application of 3D printing technology by the pump and valve manufacturers.
- Economy of Scale: Due to economy of scale, conventional manufacturing demonstrated to be inexpensive for market participants with high – medium volume of production such as pump and valve manufacturers. This led to limiting of 3D printing technology to rapid prototyping and producing only replacement products and spare parts.
- Protection of Intellectual Property (IP) and Cyber security: 3D printing technology relies heavily on digital data such as CAD files, online designs and its transmittance with the printer. Given the exposure of technology to data theft and intellectual property infringement, 3D printing technology had been unexciting to pump and valve manufacturers. Mature pump and valve industry has been driving market participants to strive for technological competitiveness. With the risk of exposing technological competitiveness to competitors and other market participants had deferred implementation of 3D technology. In addition, patent license for 3D printing processes such as Stereolithography Apparatus (SLA), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) till their expiry by 2004, 2009, and 2014 respectively did not seem like remunerative investment to the pump and valve manufacturers.
Opportunities for Pump and Valve Manufacturers
With the evolution of processes and integration of raw material with preferred mechanical properties, 3D printing technology is able to cater to other end users such as pump and valve manufacturers. Rising need to produce energy efficient and cost competitive products with intricate geometries, pump and valve manufacturers are investigating the benefits of 3D printing technology. Over the years, 3D printing technology has been overcoming its limitations by constantly evolving the technology. Following are such advancements in the process, which can provide worthwhile opportunities to pump and valve manufactures.
- Scaling Up: Economy of scale is a barrier to entry for 3D printing technology. However, 3D printing technology’s ability to scale up by combining and producing one large single component instead of multiple small components is revolutionizing the supply chain. For instance, in 2017, GE Aviation with the aid of 3D printing technology created a helicopter engine with 16 parts as compared to the usual 900 parts. Similarly, elimination of core prints, core offset and integrating core is expected benefit pump and valve manufacturers.
- Protection of Intellectual Property (IP): Protection of 3D printing’s CAD files is critical to the manufacturer. Manufacturers often face challenges such as IP infringement and counterfeiting of the original product. There are various ways to safeguard a CAD file or the design itself. Initially end users can sign an NDA with the 3D printing service provide to maintain data security. Patents and copyrights for the design, printed object under various patent and copyright laws can safeguard end users. For instance, Article L613-4 (IP code of France) forbids duplication of a product without consent. Similarly, WIPO copyright treaty (Article 11) provides copyright and patent holders with possibility of monitoring and curbing any infringement.
- Reverse Engineering: With the typical pump lifespan of 15-20 years, it is evident that some of the end users have decade old pump in operations. 3D printing technology can aid in reverse engineering, especially in cases where there is unavailability of design drawings of the pumps. 3D scanning technology will empower end users to scan the product and reproduce the design in CAD files and print by 3D printer, thereby, enabling the end user to manufacture the product, or its spare parts and components.
Continued advancements in the processes will enable 3D technology to open Pandora’s box of opportunities for pump and valve manufacturers. Valve manufacturer such as GE Oil & Gas has already started utilizing 3D printing technology. GE Oil & Gas printed Masonelian control valve parts at its Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. Advantages of 3D printing technology are expected to overpower its limitations and increase its adoption rate by pump and valve manufacturers. However, economy of scale and IP protection will limit large scale implementation of 3D printing technology by the manufacturers. The advent of digital supply chain in the pump and valve industry is expected to make 3D printing technology an indispensable asset for pump and valve manufacturers.