3D-Printed Spare Parts and Tooling Company Formed from Industry Partnership
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on June 25, 2018 |

3D-printing firm Rize Inc. and Production Services Management Inc. (PSMI), a metal removing and engineering company, have formed a partnership that may result in a business model unique to the additive manufacturing (AM) landscape. PSMI formed a new company, Azoth, that will use Rize’s 3D-printing technology to provide 3D-printed tooling and spare parts to its industrial customers, which include companies as large as John Deere, GM and Ford.

Voxel-level control enables Rize’s technology to 3D print full-color parts, though the initial release will only print in gray scale. (Image courtesy of Rize.)
Voxel-level control enables Rize’s technology to 3D print full-color parts, though the initial release will only print in gray scale. (Image courtesy of Rize.)

We spoke to Rize CEO Andy Kalambi and PSMI/Azoth Co-President Scott Burk to learn more about how the partnership is only the start to what sounds like some exciting future developments.

The Additive Indirect Supplies Crib

Listing off clients like GM in the auto realm, Orchid Orthopedics in the medical space and other industrial customers like Accuride and FCA, Scott Burk explained what PSMI does.

“We think of ourselves as a plant services company that provides subtractive manufacturing technology” he said. “We’re one of the world’s foremost authorities on metal removal and subtractive manufacturing. We’re supplying 225 plants in 12 countries, 1,300 people, with 400 technical engineers in subtractive manufacturing.”

Using this expertise, PSMI supplies parts to manufacturers relying on metal cutting, forming, stamping and other processes. This includes abrasive components, drills, cutters, blades, gauges, and countless other items involved in the production of goods. 

“But, we have a void in our supply chain, and we really see additive helping to fill that void,” Burk said. “The void exists for customers that need special one-off parts that the traditional tool and die shop would charge a lot of money for because they need to strip down and rebuild a machine to make those parts. Those usually take six to eight weeks or more in lead time, and the price is usually exorbitant.”

Through its Additive Indirect Supplies Crib, Azoth will be able to provide custom tooling, gauging, fixtures and other parts on-site using Rize’s augmented polymer deposition (APD) 3D-printing technology. According to the companies, this will result in cutting costs by 50 times and lead times by 30 times.

“In many cases, these widgets are so important that if one breaks, it can send an entire factory home,” Burk said. “I’ve seen helicopters chartered to fly a $20 product out to a factory to keep things going. But, now, we can basically print anything they need in that facility on-demand. That’s the vision.”

In the past several years, various companies have pursued some model of supplying 3D-printable spare parts to customers. Two examples include a repository of digital spare parts for on-site 3D printing or delivery and a mobile 3D-printing solution that promised to show up to a facility and 3D print parts on-demand. Both of those startups are long-forgotten. More often, a large company, such as Caterpillar, might explore 3D printing spare parts for customers internally. 

When it comes to tooling, we’ve seen numerous examples of companies that have adopted 3D printing in-house for the creation of molds, jigs, gauges, fixtures and other components used in the manufacturing process. As far as we know, however, there has yet to be a firm that fabricates tooling and spare parts as a service. 

Azoth aims to do just that. Burk explained that, in doing so, the company won’t be a new startup with a business plan and a goal of finding customers. Instead, it already has a well-established base of clients. Currently, the new company will bring Rize One 3D printers to plants for a few of its large customers: one in aerospace, one in automotive and one in agriculture. It will also have printers at its headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., where Azoth will be able to 3D print parts for some of its smaller customers, as well.

Parts can be 3D printed to feature QR codes that can call up manufacturing information in a smartphone or tablet app. (Image courtesy of Rize.)
Parts can be 3D printed to feature QR codes that can call up manufacturing information in a smartphone or tablet app. (Image courtesy of Rize.)

APD relies on a combination of fused filament fabrication and inkjet 3D printing, resulting in some interesting capabilities. A Rize 3D printer is able to deposit ink between parts and their support structures, which makes it easy to remove, thus limiting post-processing. Additionally, APD makes it possible to print images, such as QR codes and serial numbers, onto parts, which opens up augmented reality and visual applications.

FA part 3D printed with APD featuring an embedded QR code. (Image courtesy of Rize.)

FA part 3D printed with APD featuring an embedded QR code. (Image courtesy of Rize.)

For Azoth, this means the ability to 3D print QR codes that provide traceability to parts printed for clients. 

“Today’s process for finding a legacy part is going into an archive to try to find the part information. Then, we make sure that part information is correct and reverse engineer it with some tool and die shop because the company that made the machine and its spare part are long gone,” Burk said. “With a QR code embedded within the 3D-printed part, I can scan that part and know every little detail, what iteration it is, when the last time we made it was, etc. All of that can be easily put on that QR code. Now, that information is never lost.”

Of course, designing for additive (DfAM) is not the same as designing for other production methods. Burk said that Azoth already has engineers trained in DfAM, but that it will continue to train more as the program expands to other plants.

“No one comes out of college knowing the difference between a boring bar and candy bar,” Burk explained. “They know mechanical engineering and the theory, but we spend considerable time teaching them how to do metalworking. We’re doing the same thing with additive. We’re taking young men and women in various stages of their collegiate career and immersing them in this additive space to create more experts.”

Future Developments

The partnership between Rize and Azoth/PSMI is one that sounds as though it benefits all involved. For PSMI, it’s a new service that can be provided to customers, who get their parts more quickly and cheaply. For Rize, the company’s ADP technology is instantly introduced to PSMI’s large customer base.

“Just to get through the 220 locations and then within those locations—these are all monstrous, huge companies, so they have a huge appetite in terms of new use cases and new applications,” Kalambi said. “I think we’re going to be very busy.”

He added, “I see this scaling into many, many different applications. We’re just scratching the surface. Every day that we sit down to discuss our partnership, we discover new things that need to be addressed—a lot of things related to custom and replacement tooling, and custom and replacement parts.”

The partnership will go beyond initial use cases involving Rize’s current polymer-based system, as well. Without going into much detail, Kalambi explained, “This partnership is to ensure that we offer not just polymer-based parts, but eventually all of the materials.”

What these materials are is unclear, but given PSMI’s work in metal, it’s possible that this was what he was alluding to. We’ve seen inkjet systems capable of 3D printing with metal, specifically the technology from XJet, so it would be interesting to see if Azoth also begins supplying metal replacement parts in the future. That future may not be too far off either because Kalambi said that there will be an announcement about these other materials “very soon.”

To learn more about Rize, visit the company website. To learn about PSMI, visit the PMSI website.

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