We are delighted to hear that 3D printing spare parts for your home appliances is becoming a reality. We have a vision of the future where by you nip into your local village to pick up your milk as well as the printed dishwasher rack that you requested the night before when it broke after the kids helped clear up tea!
But as a society how near are we to that vision and what blockers stand in the way? To understand this we need to answer a few questions.
When is 3D printing spare parts commercially viable?
Commercial viability varies across manufacturers and products however as appliances age then the viability of 3D printing the spares increases. On demand 3D printing of the spare parts can, in some circumstances, reduce warehouse and transportation costs and increases customer satisfaction as parts for older products then become more readily available. For many manufacturers thinking of moving to 3D printing parts then an assessment of viability is highly recommended.
Have any Manufacturers started down this path?
Some large manufacturers are starting to consider placing their designs on cloud platforms so that customers can simply order parts to be locally printed. Whirlpool are dipping their toe in the water. They are working with SpareParts3D to 3D print some of their spare parts and starting to understand the benefits. We look forward to seeing how this partnership develops over the coming months.
What about non genuine spare parts?
Now this is interesting. Parts are easy enough to reverse engineer (if you are a designer!) and so some fantastic engineers have placed their designs on sights such as Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory . These designs can be downloaded and printed locally. They may not be genuine products but they are practically free if you already own your own 3D printer. The designs very often have feedback from others who have downloaded which means that they have effectively been tested before you waste filament printing them off.
What about the legalities?
The increase in 3D printing and the availability of designs, both genuine and non genuine, is raising questions around responsibilities. If a consumer used a part and then the appliance broke, where would responsibility lie? I think the current answer is that companies don’t really know. Luckily BEIS, the government department for business, environment and industrial strategy have also realised that they don’t really know either. They have therefore instigated research to start to find out the answers. We look forward to hearing the outcomes of the study.