Image Credit: MarinaGrigorivna/Shutterstock.com
The 3D printing industry is experiencing rapid growth and acceleration of technologies. 2018 saw growth of 21%, and a global industry value exceeding $7 billion. Faster print speeds, greater versatility, and lower costs are helping to expedite the expansion of the industry.
We are already seeing a number of global sectors embracing the sector. Healthcare and aerospace have already cemented their stakes in 3D printing, and even now they are reaping its benefits. It is predicted that a more broad-scale adoption from all industries is on the cusp, especially from within the mining industry.
Benefits of 3D Printing
3D printing can dramatically reduce lead times for getting new parts or machinery. Part failures and repairs are an unavoidable element of mining projects. Currently, operations may be required to halt as new parts are ordered in, which could hinder production for anything from weeks to months. 3D printing parts on-site doesn’t just benefit operations that are currently running by reducing project completion time, it also improves on project set-ups. The time to wait for parts and machinery to arrive at a new site to begin mining can be up to a year or more. With the developments in 3D printing technology, it’s entirely possible that the near future could see machinery with the capacity to create a tonne a day worth of parts. This could revolutionize the mining industry, making operations more efficient and reducing the time invested in each project. With an increased demand for resources from the tech and renewable energy industry, this could help mining cope with the rising demand.
Closely related to the benefits of reducing lead times is the cost-saving impact of 3D printing. Utilization of this technology can reduce costs along the entire supply chain. Of course, a reduction in project downtime saves on costs of stagnant production, but more than this, the capability to produce your parts on-site cuts transportation costs significantly. Further to this, the ability to print necessary parts and equipment on-site reduces the requirement to have extensive inventories. Costs can be reduced as less land and buildings are needed to store parts that are anticipated, they can just be printed as and when they’re needed. The industry will be reshaped by this change, as production processes will dramatically change, and production will become more profitable.
As efficiency is increased through mining projects self-producing what they need, the industry reduces waste and becomes more sustainable as its reliance on suppliers decreases. A reduced need to transport materials to the site helps the industry become greener, burning less fossil fuel for transportation.
3D Printing for the Mining Industry
Further to economic benefits, 3D printing is also advantageous to the mining industry in that it allows for customized tools and parts to be created at the mine in small quantities. Task-specific tools can be made available at the time they are needed. These customized tools can be saved within the 3D printer’s digital library, making them instantly available for future use.
We are already seeing large mining firms teaming up with 3D printing technology companies to take advantage of the benefits the technology brings to their sector. For example, the Australian iron ore mining company, Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), recently joined forces with Aurora Labs, a 3D printing company to develop 3D printing applications in the mining industry. Partnerships like this will see 3D printing’s capabilities in the mining industry grow rapidly, enabling more mining organizations to take advantage of its benefits. In addition, with the surge in its adoption in all global industries, accelerated progress is expected in the capabilities and applications of the technology.