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Hard-To-Find Part? Just Hit ‘Print’

3-D printing is beginning to gain traction, solving a number of industry challenges.

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Amy Antenora has been reporting on the automotive aftermarket since 2002.

As changes in market dynamics call for a more efficient and faster parts-production cycle and improved inventory practices, 3-D printing has become a viable solution for producing replacement parts.

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In 2018, Frost & Sullivan released research that showed 3-D printing, along with telematics and e-commerce, would form key foundations in the evolution of the OEM aftersales channel. At the time, Frost & Sullivan said it “expects global automotive aftermarket demand to increase by 4.4% during 2018, with a slowdown anticipated in some developed markets. Participants in the OEM aftermarket that embrace potential data-monetization opportunities that can be optimized by enhanced customer accessibility, widening B2B networks and expanding product and service portfolios, will capitalize on current value-add opportunities and ensure future success.”

Think of all that has happened since Frost & Sullivan shared that prognostication in 2018 – material price increases, tariff and trade issues, a global pandemic and supply chain shortages. All of these issues have forced automakers and parts suppliers to rethink sourcing, production processes, supply chain issues and more in order to maintain a stable balance sheet and stay competitive.

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3-D printing to the rescue

In March, automaker Nissan, in collaboration with HP Inc. and digital manufacturer SOLIZE Corp., announced plans to use 3-D printing to “revolutionize the replacement-parts business” and meet the demands of the global heritage market.

Car enthusiasts and collectors alike need access to parts to facilitate repairs and replacements. Historically, this has been a cumbersome task involving inventory storage and logistics issues. SOLIZE and HP have set out to help Nissan solve this issue with the joint development and on-demand production of discontinued replacement parts for Nissan’s NISMO Heritage Parts program. The two companies are the first to design and manufacture 3-D-printed replacement parts for NISMO enthusiasts.

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After working with Nissan to identify ideal parts for 3-D production, SOLIZE then partnered with HP to optimize high-quality commercial parts and take advantage of the advanced capabilities provided by HP’s Multi Jet Fusion platform for production. The first part identified for restoration using 3-D printing is a plastic part of the harness protector for the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R. The part is produced using HP High Reusability PA 11, which provides high mechanical properties and design flexibility, according to SOLIZE.

“SOLIZE has more than 30 years of experience and has honed its technology since it first deployed 3-D printers in Japan,” said Yasutoshi Kudo, president and CEO, SOLIZE Corp. “We have jointly developed 3-D-printing technology with Nissan for commercial parts that have been discontinued and take charge of manufacturing the parts. With HP’s market-leading 3-D-printing technology, we are able to support industries including automotive with sustainable production that delivers fast, high-quality and cost-effective results.”

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Rebuilding Supply Chains with Sustainable Production

To facilitate repairs and parts replacement, automobile manufacturers are required to provide replacement parts for their products over extended periods of time. Producing or storing parts for vehicles that have been discontinued, upgraded or overhauled can be challenging and expensive as manufacturers must retain molds and manage inventory storage and logistics.

According to SOLIZE and HP, digital manufacturing and 3-D printing enable flexible design and just-in-time 3-D production for virtual inventory that meets the demand for complex parts while reducing costs. In addition, sustainable on-demand 3-D production contributes to the reduction of industrial waste and carbon dioxide emissions throughout the product life cycle, the two companies say.

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“We are seeing leaders of industry like Nissan recognize the massive cost implications of storage, molds and logistics for replacement parts and how industrial 3-D printing can help,” said Jon Wayne, head of Global Commercial Business for 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing, HP Inc. “Digital manufacturing is a viable, long-term solution for accelerating production, transforming supply chains and activating industries such as automotive. Together with SOLIZE we are focused on helping businesses transform their manufacturing with sustainable, digital production.”

In response to the expansion of the global heritage market and the increasing demand from customers for support parts and maintenance, Nissan said it is continually looking to evolve its NISMO Heritage Parts. Sales of NISMO Heritage Parts began in December 2017, providing customer support, maintenance and restoration options for Nissan Heritage cars no longer in production. To help Nissan meet the needs of its customers, SOLIZE and HP will support the development of replacement parts for the Skyline GT-R R32/R33/R34.

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“Our Heritage customers are the most passionate car enthusiasts in the world, and we are dedicated to ensuring they can enjoy their cars as long as possible,” said Kent O’Hara, senior vice president, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. “We are excited that SOLIZE and HP can help us please our customers and achieve our goals in a sustainable way.”

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