Today I’m looking at DiManEx, a very interesting 3D printed spare parts provider.
In the past we’ve often talked about the problem of spare parts inventory. This has been the case for decades, where an excessive amount of spare parts soaks up too many resources to maintain.
But that was the only alternative for a mass manufacturing scenario: factory lines were set up for a period to produce a specific set of parts in huge volumes. Before the line was shut down and converted to a new set of parts, the line was used to produce a quantity of spare parts for use in the future after the factory line was long gone.
These parts would then be physically stored in huge warehouses, where they would patiently wait for years, and sometimes decades, for someone to finally request their use. And it’s not just a warehouse that would have to be paid for; it would also have to be staff to manage it and software to keep track of it all. Even worse, some scenarios might require very quick access to spare parts, causing a requirement for multiple regionally-located warehouses.
All of this is very costly and that’s borne by customers, ultimately.
Then 3D printing emerged and things got interesting.
Digital Inventory Concept
The concept of “digital inventory” emerged. The theory goes like this: don’t have many, if ANY, physical spare parts in warehouses. Instead, have a 3D printer that can produce a required spare part on demand based on a digital 3D model that’s held in a database. This could, in theory, save countless dollars otherwise spent managing warehouses of parts, many of which will never be used.
So far I’ve seen several companies working towards this goal. Stratasys seems quite focused on the transport industry, in particular railway car interiors that must be supported by spare parts for decades. 3YOURMIND offers a service that can chew through a pile of 3D models to determine which ones could be 3D printed, thus leading towards a digital inventory situation.
However, it seems that DiManEx seems to have assembled a package of services that could make digital inventory far easier for many companies, which they call the “virtual warehouse”. The problem with piecemeal approaches is that companies need ALL the functions in place, not just concepts.
DiManEx’s system involves an inspection of a company’s inventory to determine which products are 3D printable. They can also reverse engineer parts where no 3D model exists, if necessary.
Then it gets interesting. DiManEx can integrate directly into a company’s inventory system to capture and redirect requests for the identified printable parts to their production service. This allows a company to continue using their existing processes without fussing with 3D printers themselves or even learning much about the technology.
It seems that DiManEx does not operate the production facilities themselves, but instead relies on a network of trusted regional providers. These would be approved by DiManEx after a detailed certification process to ensure any spare parts produced are of sufficient quality.
DiManEx smartly organizes their network regionally. This allows for faster — and cheaper — transport of any spare parts produced to the customer. Currently they operate in multiple US states and several European countries, but I am certain they wish to expand their network more broadly in the future.