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Use of 3-D printing in the aviation industry will most likely be limited in the near-term to replacement parts, rather than proprietary spares, according to an annual survey by Oliver Wyman.

In the 2014 MRO Survey, 60 percent of respondents say the biggest benefit to the industry of the budding adaptive manufacturing technology will be a lower cost of replacement parts, and 54 percent say the technology could cut investment in inventory. Only 40 percent of respondents expect the technology will create another option for higher-value spare parts.

“While 3-D printing in any industry has the potential to erode existing protections of proprietary technology, the survey results suggest industry participants expect original equipment manufacturers to find ways to protect their technology from adaptive manufacturing by others,” said Oliver Wyman Partner Chris Spafford, who led the survey on aviation maintenance, repair, and overhaul.

This year’s survey also shows M&A is heating up for independent maintenance companies. Most of the deal activity is from larger MROs and private equity investors.

The survey further confirms that US airlines are repatriating airframe maintenance, moving work back to North America from overseas. In this year’s survey, 60 percent of airline respondents say they are willing to pay up to a 5 percent more for a domestic provider, and 20 percent indicate a willingness to accept up to 15 percent higher costs.

That’s good news for aviation mechanics: 32 percent of the North American MROs surveyed say they are hiring to expand operations, and 48 percent are hiring to sustain headcount.

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