The Race to Remanufacture

by Derek Guest

Source: The Engineer

3D printing is giving old machines and equipment a new lease of life. But can the new technology perform as well as the original part?

The 3D printing industry is 'choking off its own revolution'. Those were the words of designer Francis Bitoniti earlier this summer, as he described how the technology had become associated with toy-like machines and overpriced materials.

The problem is that the promise of 3D printing often can often be vastly different  from the reality. The technology has been hailed as the solution to everything from self-assembling furniture to custom-made prosthetics. In reality, however, 3D printing has largely been confined to creating prototypes rather than the final product.

But while consumer products have proven difficult for technology, there is one area that is beginning to benefit hugely from 3D printing: remanufacturing. The process involves the disassembly of products, during which  parts are cleaned, repaired or replaced then reassembled. It can often be costly, time consuming and labour intensive. But 3D printing could change that.

"Remanufacturing is more efficient than recycling because only a small portion of the part needs to be remade instead of the entire thing," Dr Jason Jones, co-founder and chief executive of Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies, told The Engineer.

Remanufacturing recaptures the value given to the product when it was first manufactured. While it is an ideal solution in terms of cost and energy, for older machines it can prove difficult to get the needed parts to replace those that are worn or broken. That is where 3D printing can help.

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