Maintenance and downtime due to poor inventory optimization is a major challenge faced by field operations in mining.
Investing in 3D printing technology can help mining firms innovate and develop their existing processes, in addition to improving efficiency and costs. This approach can be used to produce parts on site and on-demand, thereby streamlining and optimizing the inbound supply chains. As mining companies operate in many remote and hostile environments and downtime of mining equipment could be extremely costly, the industry faces many practical challenges:
- The high cost of materials, excess inventory, and warehousing and on-site storage costs
- Logistic costs of transporting parts in emergencies to ensure the continuous running of machines
- High dependence on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for precision-engineered parts
What is 3D printing?
3D printing, also referred to as additive technology, is the process of making physical objects from a digital model using a printer. Although still at its nascent stage, the technology is already making waves in the manufacturing of prosthetics, medical devices, and lightweight precision automotive and aerospace parts.
Increased use of technology and innovation
By applying 3D printing into their production cycle, businesses can create quality products quickly and easily without the need for a physical prototype, thereby improving efficiency and reducing costs. But time will tell whether 3D printing can meet the demands of the mining industry, which requires high-quality, precision-manufactured items made of multiple materials.
Parts failures and repairs
With access to a digital service parts library and the requisite 3D printing capability, production of parts on site and on demand makes part failure and the site remoteness inconsequential. With spare parts stored digitally, the high cost and environmental impact of transportation and warehousing of inventory are drastically reduced.
Further, 3D printing helps optimize material and energy consumption by consuming only the raw material required to build the final product, thus supporting a leaner and greener approach to production.
The tools used in mining can be customized to suit the mining environment and produced cost effectively in small quantities. Using 3D printing, any item in the digital library can be replicated on site to suit the unique requirements of the operations.
3D printing increases efficiency, reduces waste, and makes processes more cost-efficient and manufacturing sustainable. Transportation costs will be reduced and as technology evolves, designs will become more energy- and fuel-efficient.
Mining businesses can potentially reduce waste in terms of energy and raw materials, and optimize utilization of used or faulty parts by recycling them. This allows for reusability of raw materials, adding to the sustainability of 3D printing.
Future of 3D printing in mining
In the mining industry, efficiency and cost containment in the supply chain is critical. Adoption of 3D printing can bring about significant changes in supply chain operations due to more on-demand in-sourcing of parts, operations strategies, and policies. It revolutionizes the supply chain operations by impacting manufacturing location strategies, shrinking delivery lead times and removing excess stock and complexity.
For more on how advanced technology can benefit manufacturing in many industries, see Digitalization, Industry 4.0, And The Future Of Industrial Production.