Virtual Spare Parts Cut Manufacturing Costs
James Anderton posted on July 21, 2015 |

3-D printing is widely touted as the future of manufacturing, but manufacturing professionals know that the technology is years, maybe even decades away from playing a meaningful part in the manufacturing economy.

The fact of the matter is, 3-D printing is too slow and too expensive to compete with multi-axis machining, injection molding, die-casting and the other current mass production technologies for meaningful volumes. That doesn’t mean that some of the enabling technology of rapid prototyping can’t have a transformative effect on manufacturing.

Millennium Power Services (MPS) have launched something called their Virtual Valve and Parts Program. The firm sells valves and valve parts, cleverly cherry picking the best of new technology without the high cost and low speed of 3-D printing.

Here’s how it works: MPS scans and collects data for all of a company’s parts then stores that data in a safe, easy access customer file. The company then manufactures any part from that database using advanced multi-axis machining technologies and delivers the finished parts to the customer with very short lead times.

MPS claims that pricing would undercut OEM parts by a substantial margin. To make it work, the company scans existing valve parts using a high resolution 3-D scanner capable of capturing measurements to within a thousand of an inch. They then identify the exact composition of materials and analyze trace elements in the valve materials to ensure the correct material composition for the replacement part.

They also hardness test the part to detect any surface treatments or case hardening. When the information is digitized, the files are given a manufacturer’s part number and a customer’s valve number. Data is transferred into a CAD drawing that includes all the part’s relevant information for manufacturing. That information can then be uploaded directly to MPS’ CNC machines for manufacturing.

To deliver quickly, the company inventories a wide variety of raw materials common to the valve industry and in most cases can build a part within seven days.

Quality is assured by rescanning the completed part to generate a deviation report. Additional material hardness reports are provided on customer request. Parts are also issued serial numbers for traceability. For emergencies, MPS can supply outage parts even on holidays and weekends.

The advantages to valve users should be obvious: low or zero inventory levels for replacement valves and the ability to order exact replacements for one-off or obsolete valves.

The MPS system also offers some intriguing possibilities. I can imagine that an underperforming valve could be scanned and then machined in a more durable, perhaps corrosion resistant material, or the opposite may be possible: an existing valve, overrated for its application, could be duplicated in a lower cost model giving it a life expectancy consistent with the rest of the process, at a much lower cost.

MPS’ Virtual Valve Parts Program really is a clever use of modern technology with a sensible manufacturing strategy. They’re neatly avoiding the pitfalls of the current state-of-the-art in metal 3-D printing and if SLA or other metal 3-D printing technologies catch up to multi-axis machining for speed and cost in valve production, MPS could no doubt adapt. The virtualization of spare parts inventory is another way that modern manufacturing will reduce costs and improve line up time. I think we can expect to see a lot more of this in the future.

To learn more about Millenium Power Services' Virtual Valve and Parts Program, visit www.millenniumpower.net.

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