The maritime industry isn’t the first that comes to mind when you think of additive manufacturing (AM) innovation. Until last year, the application of the technology in the field has been fairly limited; RAMLAB at the Port of Rotterdam completed the installation of the world’s first certified 3D printed propellor onto a seafaring vessel back in November and Danish 3D printing company, Create It Real established a pilot project with the Green Ship of the Future consortium to explore printing on board ships. However, with the standard lifetime of a vessel spanning decades and a global network delivering billions of tonnes of cargo to ports each year, a new company aiming to offer part replacement as part of a digital service, Ivaldi Group, believes the sector is ripe for disruption.
Earlier this week, the company validated its Parts Replacement as a Service (PRaaS) model in a major partnership with one of the largest suppliers of spare parts, Wilhelmson, which serves over 2,000 ports worldwide. Ivaldi’s CEO Espen Sivertsen spoke to TCT about the partnership and ambitions to shake up the logistics of spare parts supply for heavy industry and beyond.
TCT: Hi Espen, you already have a background in 3D printing, starting out with Type A Machines. Tell us about how Ivaldi began and the experience you’re bringing to this new business.
ES: I left Type A Machines in 2016 in order to pursue an idea, a need for infrastructure around sending files rather than parts and it’s all connected into the world of logistics. The challenge right now for a large majority of stuff in the world is that everything is being manufactured in a central location. The problem with that of course is if you’re a company trying to provide the parts, you have to predict how big the market is going to be, you have to figure out how to do all of the logistics and production, you have to invest a lot of money up front in order to have the inventory and the stock.
Doing desktop 3D printing, what was kind of interesting to me was that more and more of our customers were using our desktop FDM machines for end-use purposes and that wasn’t really something I was expecting when we started out. $3-5,000 units can actually produce parts that are of high enough quality to use out in the field. The consequence of 3D printing getting faster, cheaper, better is that it’s starting to make sense to do production in a distributed manner rather than a centralised manner.
You’re targeting the maritime industry, why did you decide to start with this market?
The average merchant vessel has about 7,000 products on board. A ship lasts 20 years plus. After, say 15 years, getting spare parts can be a real nightmare. So when you look at the world’s fleet it’s a real problem because no ships are alike and they all need spare parts. The vessel is not stationary either.
There are a whole bunch of industries we’ve found that this is valuable for, particularly within the heavy industry category but we’ve chosen to start with the maritime space because it’s the kind of space that’s ripe for disruption and we’ve got some really great partners, Wilhelmson being our first announcement.
What are the current challenges being faced by the industry in the supply of replacement parts?
What’s happening, and I think this is true for a number of industries, is that the interest of the company selling the equipment and the interests of the end-users are misaligned. The problem is on one hand you want your customers to buy your product and in order to do that you need a stellar reputation. On the other hand, you want your stuff to break as frequently as possible because you’re making all of your profit in the aftermarket. The solution for that is to do what we are basically working on right now which is almost a subscription model. The thinking is that we are able to deliver parts to vessels on a subscription basis and then we give OEMs royalties as well. So you want people to subscribe which is good for them because they get the parts when they need them but we’ve also aligned the interest of the OEM in such a way that they don’t actually want the part to break anymore. That’s also really good for the end-user because they don’t have to do as much maintenance.
To pilot this, you have just announced a partnership with the world’s largest maritime network, Wilhelmson. Tell us about how that partnership came about and what you are implementing with them.
We’ve been working with Wilhelmson for about a year and a half now. We have set up what we call a test “micro factory” in Singapore. We have a team that’s really good at digitising parts so we can work with either the original OEM to help make their parts 3D printable or if the OEM doesn’t exist anymore, we can just digitise the parts ourselves. The other part of the equation is having a big digital inventory, this concept of a digital twin meaning you’re creating a digital replica of the vessel and that’s kind of where we’re heading, we’re building up these huge databases of spare parts.
You’re proposing an entirely new digital business model. Can you tell us how “Parts Replacement as a Service” will work?
It’s almost like a SaaS, it’s all digital, it’s pretty much all in the cloud and then you just use AM as kind of a fax machine at the end. Then of course, the quality control aspect, being able to ensure that the right part goes to the right customer and the right quality.
There’s no real distributed manufacturing mechanism at the moment. We are basically rolling out, starting in Singapore, a global infrastructure for spare parts on demand. For me that’s an interesting shift in the delivery mechanism of 3D printed parts in the supply chain. What we really want to help OEMs do is move from what they’re doing today to basically work off of our platform and be a part of that subscription model and actually, it turns out with our business model they can get better margins with less risk.
Maritime is a traditionally a conservative, old-school industry – have you found that partners you’ve approached have been open to the technology or is there some resistance?
This is the first time that a major player in the maritime industry has a commercialised solution using AM. We’re starting with non-critical parts. Most of the companies we’ve been talking to and working with have tried AM already and they usually have their own teams, particularly on the OEM side, exploring AM because they all know it’s coming. There’s no question in anyone’s mind that AM is going to be impacting the future of logistics, it’s just a question of how and the problem that they run into frequently is they try printing things on a desktop machine and they won’t get the quality that they need because they don’t know how to use them at the same level.
Then they’ll go and either buy or order parts from a $100,000 plus machine and they’ll get the quality and results they need but not at the price they need and that’s part of the challenge right now. For the vast majority of parts the conclusion is it’s an interesting technology, it’s coming but it’s not quite mature yet and that’s where we can come in.
You mentioned “micro factories”, what equipment will these in-port facilities include? Are you going to monitor that and provide training?
We basically deliver a “factory in a box”. We’re pretty technology agnostic and the technology is going to develop as it has been for the last couple of years really rapidly so we’re able to place equipment as new and exciting technologies come up but we do have the control for the variation across the equipment types, particularly in the desktop market where printers aren’t as reliable and repeatable as we would like them to be.
We train their operators, certify the whole platform and then our production system and we continue by following up and doing spot checks and so on to make sure that the outfit is the standard that it needs to be in order to pass inspection.
There are potential further reaching benefits to this model, what kind of environmental impact do you see it having?
There is an interesting environment aspect to this which I also find attractive. If the only thing that you’re importing and exporting is the raw goods to print the parts then suddenly there’s a nice economic incentive to recycle local materials or take back the old working parts and turn them into new parts. With local production, if you can recycle locally as well and turn it into new filaments or other materials for printing then you’ve actually taken care of that problem. Not to mention that we’re also removing a whole bunch of packaging.
How do you see Ivaldi’s PRaaS growing, could this model eventually be adopted by other industries?
Over the next few years machines will become cheaper, faster and stronger but in the meantime we’re building up this ecosystem. The way we think about it is doesn’t really make sense to have 500 different production facilities and then import, really what you need is one production facility that can do white labelling and actually just produce the parts with your company logo on the box and make sure that you get as good, if not better, margins than you’re getting today. I think we have an ecosystem that enables that and that’s why we’re listening for more partners because I think we’ve actually found the solution for people on the OEM side where you don’t have to make all of these big investments and figure it all out yourself, you can work with us and we will radically simplify your distribution and support systems.
It really comes down to that whole moniker of just “ship files, not parts”, it’s a lot easier, it takes away so many risks and delays.