Will 3D printing affect the mining industry?

Mining is an industry where bespoke tooling and manufacturing are a core part of daily operations.

Problem is, that the current methods of producing tooling and components are time consuming, expensive and wasteful – mining processes that are in need of an overhaul.

The many parts, used in mining operations, are made using low volume and one-off production runs. The traditional methodologies used, to make the tooling and in manufacturing, are best suited to high volumes. They are overly expensive and an inefficient use of resources, both in material requirements and financially, when used for low volume and one-off production runs.

silhouettes of worker in the mine.This drives up the operating cost of the mine. If one looks at the accumulated tooling & manufacturing costs over 3, 5 & 10 years, the costs are significant.

3D printing technology and the range of available 3D printer materials, is maturing and expanding almost daily.

The technology is now a viable addition and, in some cases, an alternative to traditional tooling and manufacturing methodologies.

Easy to just say, give me proof!

A quick due diligence, will reveal that the major 3D printer companies have not been performing well, indicating that 3D printing is merely a fad.


Stratasys Share Price Drop


3D Systems Corporation Share Price Drop

ExOne Co Share Price Drop

ExOne Co Share Price Drop

Voxeljet AG Share Price Drop

Voxeljet AG Share Price Drop

TIME Magazine asked a similar question in June 2015 – “Was 3D Printing Just a Passing Fad?“.

Here’s a few quotes from the article:

For decades, the technology that led to 3D printing was used in industrial design, creating quick and relatively cheap prototypes that could be tweaked without having to retool an entire manufacturing process. Then, around 2012, the buzz about the potential of 3D printing began to grow louder.

But just because the hype surrounding 3D printing got out of hand quickly doesn’t mean the technology itself isn’t promising. There’s still plenty of potential in the market longer-term—there is in cleantech and nanotech. It will just take time to deliver on that potential. And meanwhile, speculative investors who are characteristically short on patience move on to the hottest new technology idea.

Here’s a few other comments from TechRadar:

So is the industry struggling? “A more accurate assessment of the industry might note it to be ‘struggling against lofty expectations’,” says Chris Connery, VP of Global Analysis at Context

However, it was always going to be difficult for 3D printing to live up to the massive hype. “When 3D printers first hit the headlines, articles were written which led people to believe that they would soon have their own Star Trek-style replicator in their living room, that factories in China would shut en masse and that they need never walk to the shops again,” says Chris Elsworthy, CEO of CEL.” “We need to be emphasising the amazing things 3D printers are doing today, not what they might be doing in 10 years’ time,” he adds.

Markets are susceptible to sentiment and, from the comments above, you can see that 3D Printing was overhyped, and when the realities of the technology (in its current stage of development) didn’t meet people’s inflated expectations, sentiment prevailed.

Want to see how that sentiment is turning around as expectations start to align with the realities of the technology?

Take a look at this Reddit discussion. The topic; “[Serious] Is 3D printing a fad or will it become widespread?”

Here’s a few quotes:

A FORBES article sums the question up nicely in their “3D Printing Is Not A Fad — Lowe’s Companies Creates New Customer Experience” article.

Quoting TJ McCue.

Despite the article in Time today that asks: Was 3D Printing Just a Passing Fad? (Link and quote below) – I have found that the answer is not found in the public stock market adoption, or buy-sell cycles, but in industry usage.

You can find more evidence in the annual Wohlers Report 2015: 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing State of the Industry, corporations and governments are investing at unprecedented rates in 3D printing.

Coming back to 3d printing in the mining industry …

Quoting from our article in Engineering News.

As with all evolving technologies, 3D Printing will have to prove it can produce high-quality and precision-manufactured items out of multiple materials in order to withstand the rigorous demands of the mining industry. This will have to be done on site in some remote and unforgiving environments if 3DP is to be chosen over traditional manufacturing – something technology observers believe to be attainable in the next five to ten years.

“Mining operators should not put off experimenting with various applications of 3DP in their facilities. Developing knowledge and skills, and testing the impact these technologies can have on their current operational strategies, will certainly stand them in good stead in the future,” says David Bullock, MD of Rapid 3D, resellers of professional and industrial grade 3D printers, and Rapid 3D Parts, a full service 3D printing bureau service.

Where downtime is related to parts failures, 3DP offers a facility to produce parts on-site and on-demand, allowing for effective in-sourcing of parts as and when they are needed. With access to a digital spare parts library and the requisite printing technology, the remoteness of a site becomes inconsequential and the high cost and environmental impact of transportation and warehousing of inventory is drastically reduced.

Further, the raw materials used for 3DP are usually in powder form and are thus easier to transport and store. A self-sustaining picture emerges where the operation itself is responsible for identifying an equipment failure and printing the solution.

Mining3DP also allows designs to be customised to suit the needs of a particular operation. This comes off the back of the ease with which 3DP can be used to replicate an item from a digital copy on-site to suit the operation’s unique requirements.

Bullock says 3DP addresses many questions of sustainability that have become topical of late. Not only will transportation costs be reduced, but evolution of the technology could make the designs themselves more energy and fuel efficient. Unlike traditional manufacturing where raw materials are subtracted resulting in waste, the process of additive manufacturing in itself sees reduced waste in terms of energy used for production and that of raw materials. It is also expected that used or faulty parts can be recycled allowing for the reuse of their raw materials, further adding to the sustainability of 3DP.

The proposals made in terms of 3DP will mean simultaneous changes to the supply chain operations of the mines using the technology. These changes to the point of manufacture, inventory, equipment, labour, transportation and products stand to be significantly simplified, seeing a far more efficient use of financial and material resources in future. As the complexity of the existing supply chains gives way to true on-demand in-sourcing of parts, Bullock says operations strategies and policies will have to be adapted in order to ensure effectiveness.

“In the coming years, we are bound to see 3DP disseminated and normalised in our daily lives, but not before it radically redefines various stages of production and manufacturing. In the mining industry, where the focus is output and productivity, 3DP stands to hold the answer to driving efficiency and creating mining-specific solutions in a largely sustainable manner,” says Bullock.

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