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Resilience Enabled by 3D Printing

by Pete Basiliere  |  June 19, 2018  |  Submit a Comment

No one talks about it, no one offers it. What happens when disaster strikes and you cannot get replacement machinery or hardware? Why aren’t 3D print service bureaus offering recovery services?

Many manufacturing operations in the Gulf Coast of the United States and the Fukishima region of Japan found their machinery damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey (2017) and the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami, respectively. The estimated total financial damage from the two disasters was $125 billion and $199 billion, respectively. An undetermined portion of the damage included destroyed or impaired manufacturing equipment that was old, with limited or no replacement parts available. In some cases, replacements were not available for several days or weeks.

Organizations will typically go back to their supplier or distributor for replacement parts. But what happens when everyone is clamoring for the same parts? Or the usual sources simply do not have what is required, or not in a timely fashion? Or your modified or custom-built built assembly lines created in-house have been destroyed?

Certainly, your plant engineers and maintenance staff have the primary responsibility for managing production equipment. They may have been using CAD/CAM for years to machine, form, mold, or cast the jigs, fixtures, tools and finished goods used in manufacturing. However, the idea that 3D printing represents a new form of digitally enabled fabrication that can be used in a recovery situation may not have occurred to them.

However, senior management does not have the time to wait until disaster strikes to find out that critical, irreplaceable equipment that must be replaced cannot be found. They must know before any business disruption strikes what their mission-critical processes are and the associated resources needed to perform those processes. They also need to know the time frame, commonly known as the recovery time objective (RTO), within which the business process will be recovered and operational.

Resilience Graphic


The ability of 3D printing to directly or indirectly produce replacement parts offers a stop-gap (and possibly a permanent) solution when equipment or components are irreparable due to hazards like seawater, fire, or other physical damage. For example, 3D print service bureaus could make replacements for a variety of parts that the OEMs no longer stock. Indeed, 3D print service bureaus that have traditional machining capabilities in addition to their 3D printers could produce an even wider range of parts.

Stocking a spare of every possible part is unrealistic. That is why the information technology infrastructure is key to readily and successfully using 3D-printed parts after a business disruption. Your IT organization must enable easy access by the appropriate personnel and suppliers to the digital file, or twin, of the item to be replaced or repaired.

Digital twins are digital representations of real-world entities or systems. The twins are duplicates of physical goods that rely on sensor or other data to understand and report on the object’s state and, potentially, add value by responding to changes. As such, digital twins are a means to achieving resilience. Archiving the digital blueprints or schematics of physical goods also makes the files available for conventional manufacturing and 3D printing.

Alternatively, access to the machinery provider’s computer-aided design (CAD) files and a willingness by the provider to share those files is necessary. But this is a recovery situation and, if Murphy’s Law comes into play, the files will not be available when they are needed, as quickly as they are needed.

Gartner recommends that you make your organization more resilient to disasters by enabling 3D-printed replacement parts when the OEM suppliers cannot meet your needs or you have custom-built manufacturing processes. The 3D-printed parts may be temporary solutions or a permanent alternative to the original items.

To make it happen, leverage the concept of digital twins to create files of mission-critical equipment. Archive the 3D printable files at your IT disaster recovery service provider so they are readily available in the aftermath of a business continuity situation.

Now is the time to talk about it.


For more insights and recommendations, please check out Prepare for the Inevitable: Resilience Enabled by 3D Printing by my colleague Roberta Witty and I.

Additional Resources

Category: 3d-printing  additive-manufacturing  advanced-manufacturing  supply-chain  

Tags: 3-d-print  3d-print  3d-print-service-bureaus  3d-printer  additive-manufacturing  business-continuity  cad  computer-aided-design  digital-twin  digital-twins  disaster-recovery  recovery-time-objective  rto  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing and digital printing hardware, software and materials. Mr. Basiliere's Maverick research coined the term Generation AI, people born after 2010 who will not know a world without application intelligence in their lives. Read Full Bio

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